The Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), the Al Qaeda terrorist group's Sahel-based affiliate, is setting up in the region and increasing its area of influence from Mali to Burkina Faso and Niger, with the Gulf countries as possible territories in which to establish itself.
According to the Global Terrorism Index 2022, JNIM is "the world's fastest growing terrorist group". This report attributes 351 murders to the terrorist group last year alone, which is 69% more than in 2020, and places Mali, the country where JNIM was born, as the most punished place, followed by Burkina Faso.
The JNIM group's way of expanding and taking control of villages is simple. As confirmed by various sources and reported by the newspaper La Razón, JNIM members appear in the villages announcing that they are the rulers from that very moment, implement their own laws, but respect some of the traditional local governing bodies, and then offer three options to the population: stay and accept their conditions, leave to areas not under the control of the jihadists, or "suffer violent consequences".
Unlike other groups such as the Islamic State, which publicly executes people as a way of exposing their power or as punishment, JNIM does not carry out executions at all. This fact, coupled with the fact that JNIM has been able to reduce problems of racism among local ethnic groups, has contributed to a very rapid spread of its power.
The uncontrolled growth of the JNIM group increases its influence and recruitment capacity, which enhances its ability to act. The group is allegedly behind attacks in recent months in northern Benin, a territory bordering Burkina Faso. The group is also allegedly behind last Tuesday's attack in northern Togo, the first deadly attack, which left at least eight soldiers dead.
Old acquaintances by a different name
The Support Group for Islam and Muslims was created on 1 March 2017 during the Malian War by the merger of four groups Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al Murabitun and the Sahara branch of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). These organisations were already close collaborators before the merger and had previously coordinated on several operations. After announcing in a video the merger of the groups into a new structure led by Iyad ag Ghali, a former Malian Tuareg rebel turned jihadist, as leader.
JNIM has particular influence in Mali and Burkina Faso, where they permanently control several territories governed through katibas, which rule in the form of caliphates. According to the opinion of some experts reported by the daily La Razón, this growth and the consolidation of their power is due to different tactics of integrating local people and their support for the ethnic Fulani population.
Racism, the cause of JNIM's rapid growth
The Fulani ethnic group is one of the key players in the terrorist group's growth in the Sahel. The Fulani are one of the nomadic groups located in North Africa and now spread throughout West Africa. Fulani people represent 12% of Mali's population, approximately 2.5 million people, who have suffered racial attacks by majority social groups. Faced with the inaction of various governments, the Fulani have found allies in the terrorist group JNIM who defend their interests, and are willing to support them in exchange for protection. Although not all Fulani are jihadists, the majority support of this group for JNIM helps them to advance rapidly and has contributed to the fact that it is now one of the majority forces within jihadism.