Updated: Oct 28, 2022
Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin’ (JNIM) is a Jihadist insurgent group that is active in the Maghreb and West Africa. Rather than being one singular organisation, JNIM is a coalition of several Jihadist groups. This has led to some confusion about its effectiveness and overall composition. Active in areas that stretch from Northern Mali to Southern Burkina Faso, violent terror-related incidents attributed to JNIM comprise more than 64 percent of all episodes of violent activity that are linked to militant Islamist groups in the Sahel region since 2017 (Eizenga and Williams 2020).
History & Foundations
JNIM formed through the merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). This merger occurred after the leaders of the respective groups declared allegiance to the leader of Al-Qaeda – Ayman al-Zawahiri – in March of 2017.
This merger took place due to an adherence to Al-Qaeda’s doctrine of unification which would allow JNIM to bring resources such as weapons and materials together to expand its areas of operations. This unification essentially formalised previous collaborations between the varying jihadist groups which compose it, as well as allowing a form of hierarchy to be created in which AQIM would oversee the actions of JNIM (Stanford University 2018).
Objectives & Ideology
Although it is often presented as a singular group with united objectives such as the removal of French forces in the Sahel, this is not the case with the objectives of the coalition of Jihadists in its active areas. For example, in Central Mali and Northern Burkina Faso, one of the component groups – the MLF (Macina Liberation Front) – is more active in combating government forces and imposing its view of Sharia law upon the local populations. This has led the MLF to be responsible for the majority of violent events in JNIM-held territory (Eizenga and Williams 2020). Additionally, the vagueness of JNIM’s structure makes it difficult to specifically attribute the actions of each individual group which composes the coalition. Essentially, this complicates the task of pinning the blame on a specific group within the coalition.
In JNIM-held territory, the coalition’s actions are motivated not only on a political or ideological basis, but also by the exertion of control over the lucrative gold mining routes. The gold-producing sites in the areas affected by jihadist violence are estimated to be valued at upwards of 34 million USD per year (Lewis and Mcneill 2019). Although the varying groups have differing local activities, ranging from gold theft to the extortion of locals and the forced implementation of Sharia law, one ideological domain does unify them – Salafism. Salafism is the radical form of Sunni Islam in which the adherents seek to establish a global caliphate through violence and militant actions.
Due to the nature and structure of the coalition, the effectivennes of its abilities to commit to an armed resistance and terror campaign in the Sahel is limited to the overall coordination of the groups involved. JNIM is estimated to have around 1000 – 2000 active fighters at a given time. However, due to organisational vagueness and the lack of a concrete structure within the coalition, misperceptions about their operational strength are prominent. This can also lead to a failure when designating that certain attacks were indeed carried out by the coalition itself. However, the tactics used by all the groups are similar and can range from terror attacks on the local population to the kidnapping of aid workers and journalists; such as Olivier Dubois who was kidnapped in April of 2021 (Reuters 2021). This all utilises equipment seen commonly in the arsenal of other organisations and can also include bombs and IEDs which have been commonly used by JNIM to increase the lethality of their attacks (MacDougall 2021).
Approach to Resistance
JNIM is extremely violent and has been responsible for a variety of attacks on UN peacekeepers, as well as on the French Armed Forces present in the area as a part of Operation Barkhane. In response to a French raid on JNIM forces in northern Mali, the group attacked the French embassy and army headquarters in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, which resulted in the deaths of 8 people and the wounding of 80 others (Weiss 2018). This represents the JNIM’s approach to combat and resistance as they are willing to attack high-profile targets such as the French army’s foreign headquarters.
International Relations & Alliances
JNIM has incorporated various local groups which they view as inalienable to its political struggle to implement Sharia law in its active areas. This, for instance, has included the incorporation and integration of ethnic Fulani militias (such as the Macina Liberation Front), as well as other ethnic groups such as the Tuaregs. This approach is effective as these small local groups and militias have frequently been the subjects of responses by the French Forces (and other local governments) and view these interventions as an attack on their way of life. As JNIM is an al-Qaeda affiliate, it has a strong rivalry with the Islamic State (IS) and its militants who operate in the North Africa and Sahel region. The formation of JNIM coincides directly with the loss of territory suffered by the IS and the weakening of its affiliates and offshoots in their various active regions (Cristiani 2017).
One of the major components of the Tuareg militia engaging in the north of Mali is Ansar Dine (AD). AD was founded by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Tuareg militant from Mali’s Kidal Region. Iyad Ag Ghaly is a key stakeholder when analysing Tuareg rebellions in Mali since the 1980s, especially due to his founding of the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in 1988. Nevertheless, since being a signee of the Tamanrasset Accords in 1991 (which aimed to end the Tuareg rebellion in Mali), Ag Ghaly has been active in other militant organisations in the region -- one of them being Ansar Dine. AD sought to impose absolute sharia across Mali and their takeover of Timbuktu in 2012 prompted the French-led Operation Serval (Daniel 2012). In 2013, following the successful conclusion of Operation Serval, the French military expanded the scope of Serval by initiating Operation Barkhane in 2014. Operation Barkhane had the public aim of helping the country's governments to maintain control of their territory (BBC News 2014). The merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, and al-Mourabitoun into the JNIM organisation is another indicator of the further integration of Tuareg militia forces in the overall Islamic insurgency in the Mali conflict, as well as in the conflict in the affected Greater Sahel region.
Works Cited (MLA-style)
BBC News. 2014. “France Sets up Anti-Islamist Force in Africa’s Sahel.” BBC News. BBC News. July 14, 2014. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-28298230.
Cristiani, Dario. 2017. “Refworld | Ten Years of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb: Evolution and Prospects.” Refworld. May 5, 2017. https://www.refworld.org/docid/591577334.html.
Daniel, Serge. 2012. “Mali’s Isolated Junta Seeks Help to Stop Tuareg Juggernaut.” Modern Ghana. March 30, 2012. https://www.modernghana.com/news/386487//malis-isolated-junta-seeks-help-to-stop-tuareg-jug.html.
Eizenga, Daniel, and Wendy Williams. 2020. “The Puzzle of JNIM and Militant Islamist Groups in the Sahel.” Africa Center for Strategic Studies. December 1, 2020. https://africacenter.org/publication/puzzle-jnim-militant-islamist-groups-sahel/.
Lewis, David, and Ryan Mcneill. 2019. “How Jihadists Struck Gold in Africa’s Sahel.” Reuters. November 22, 2019. https://www.reuters.com/investigates/special-report/gold-africa-islamists/.
MacDougall, Clair. 2021. “Terrorists’ IED Attacks Make the UN Mission in Mali Even Deadlier in 2021.” PassBlue. December 23, 2021. https://www.passblue.com/2021/12/23/terrorists-ied-attacks-make-the-un-mission-in-mali-even-deadlier-in-2021/.
Reuters. 2021. “French Journalist Kidnapped in Northern Mali Appears in Video.” Reuters, May 5, 2021, sec. Europe. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/french-journalist-kidnapped-northern-mali-appears-video-2021-05-05/.
Stanford University. 2018. “MMP: Jamaat Nusrat Al-Islam Wal Muslimeen.” Cisac.fsi.stanford.edu. July 2018. https://cisac.fsi.stanford.edu/mappingmilitants/profiles/jamaat-nusrat-al-islam-wal-muslimeen#text_block_20326.
Weiss, Caleb. 2018. “Al Qaeda Branch in Mali Claims Burkina Faso Attacks | FDD’s Long War Journal.” Www.longwarjournal.org. March 4, 2018. https://www.longwarjournal.org/archives/2018/03/al-qaeda-branch-in-mali-reportedly-claims-burkina-faso-attacks.php.