Jihadists in central Mali pledge allegiance to new Islamic State leader

A short video uploaded online appears to show a cadre of jihadists in Mali’s central Segou Region pledging allegiance to Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al Qurayshi, the newly appointed leader of the Islamic State.

The video features dozens of jihadists in the area of Nampala close to Mali’s borders with Mauritania. It is important to note that the video was not released through official Islamic State channels. Though this is not unusual for Islamic State-loyal jihadists in the Sahel.

Prior to and even after being officially recognized by the Islamic State’s leadership in Iraq and Syria, the so-called “Islamic State in the Greater Sahara” released most of its propaganda and attack claims unofficially.

In today’s short clip, an Arabic-speaking figure introduces the group as “Soldiers of the Caliphate in Mali,” before leading his men in the pledge of bayah [allegiance] to Qurayshi.

It is unknown if the unit previously existed in the area and is reaffirming its loyalty or if this faction represents a splinter within the ranks of al Qaeda’s Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM).

Given the lack of Islamic State activity in that area, it is possible that these men were once part of JNIM until recently.

JNIM and its constituent units have long operated near Nampala and the wider Segou Region of Mali.

Just this week, JNIM took responsibility for a major assault on a Malian base near Sokolo in the Segou Region. That area, which includes Nampala and contains the longstanding jihadist refuge Wagadou Forest, has been a hotbed of militant activity for the last several years.

If this Islamic State-loyal group does indeed represent new defections from JNIM, this would help to confirm possible reports of increased tensions between the two camps in the region.

Additionally, JNIM recently released a pamphlet addressed to its fighters and detractors who accused it of not properly enforcing Sharia and implementing hudud [punishments under Sharia]. That release was likely in response to complaints made by Islamic State-sympathetic jihadists.

As the Islamic State continues to grow in the Sahel, it is possible that it will be able to attract more fighters from al Qaeda’s camp. This will not come without consequences, however, as future brawls between the jihadist heavyweights are likely to occur.