By Rida Lyammouri,

May 31st, 2016

Here is what we know so far about Gao attack.

Tuesday night the Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization in Mali (MINUSMA) and the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) were targeted in Gao by almost simultaneous attacks. First around 20:45 MINUSMA camp located at Château d’Eau district came under either mortars or rockets attack. Facts still to be confirmed but at least one Chinese peacekeeper killed while three seriously injured. Furthermore, dozens of MINUSMA staff members, including civilians, were slightly injured. While preliminary damages are being assessed, initial information indicates that housing containers for staff were destroyed. The severity of physical damages and earlier reporting from locals about loud explosion indicate possible use of suicide bomber in a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device. France24 reported it was a suicide vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (SVBIED) that targeted Chinese peacekeepers post. One Chinese peacekeeper killed and two others severely injured.

Almost simultaneously gunmen attacked a hotel hosting UNMAS experts. Three contractors total killed including two Malian private security officers and one French UNMAS expert.

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Image of Chateau d’Eau in Gao, Mali. Source: Maghreb and Sahel Blog.

It is difficult and unclear to know which group is responsible for this attacks and no group have claimed responsibility of the attack yet. In February, two similar attacks were conducted against MINUSMA camps in Timbuktu and Kidal that were claimed by AQIM and Ansar al-Din respectively. Gao was occupied in 2012 by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJWA), although the group have been weakened and not claimed any attacks for over a year since it broke away from al-Murabitun and Mokhtar Belmokhtar. While AQIM and Ansar al-Din barely operated around Gao city, Belmokhtar was living there in 2012 where built ties with MUJWA leaders. A fraction of MUJWA led by Adnane Abu Walid al-Sahraoui pledged allegiance to the so-called Islamic State in May 2015 but yet to make a signature attack. Al-Sahraoui men operates in Gao region on the borders with Niger and northern Burkina Faso where they were responsible of kidnapping a Romanian citizen in April 2015. Won’t be surprising if al-Sahraoui men are behind Gao attacks, but lets not take Ansar al-Din and AQIM branch led by Abu Talha out of the equations since were the most active in the past year and responsible for most of the attacks.