Homeland Security

New Al-Qaeda Branch Formed in West Africa, Says Video Announcement

YouTube screenshot.

A video is being circulated of jihadists in Burkina Faso announcing the formation of a new al-Qaeda affiliate in the West African country.

The video, featuring several armed jihadists milling around a white pickup adorned with Shahada flags, was circulated online Tuesday but not released through official al-Qaeda media channels. It was not clear when the video was recorded.

The announcement comes two weeks after the State Department designated Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin — the official branch of al-Qaeda in Mali — a terrorist organization.

That group was formed by a March 2017 merger of Saharan forces of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Mourabitoun, Ansar Dine, and the Macina Liberation Front. In June 2017, the group attacked Le Campement Kangaba, a resort in Dougourakoro, Mali, taking dozens of hostages and killing five.

JNIM claimed responsibility for coordinated attacks in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, this past March in which 30 people were killed.

The group’s leader is Tuareg rebel Iyad Ag Ghaly, who became radicalized a decade ago while serving in Mali’s diplomatic delegation to Saudi Arabia.

The State Department released its country reports on terrorism today, which indicated al-Qaeda expanding its membership. U.S. Coordinator for Counterterrorism Ambassador Nathan Sales called the terror group “a determined and patient adversary.”

“They have largely remained out of the headlines in recent years as they’ve been content to let ISIS bear the brunt of the international response, but we shouldn’t confuse that period of relative quiet with al-Qaeda’s abandonment of its capabilities or intentions to strike us and our allies,” Sales told reporters.

The report says Burkina Faso “experienced a slow but steady increase in terrorist activity in 2017,” with IED attacks seen for the first time last year. “The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program provided workshops on cross-border security, crisis management, criminal justice procedures, and prosecution of terrorists. This included an Advanced Rural Border Patrol course and Border Unit mentorship to assist Burkina Faso in securing its borders. The United States partnered with the UN Office for Drugs and Crime for a program on Burkina Faso’s legal framework to counter terrorism,” the report said.

Overall, African nations “struggled to contain the expansion of terrorist groups, affiliates, and aspirants involved in attacks or other activities in 2017,” the State Department said, from Somalia to the Lake Chad region to the Sahel.