Al-Qaeda and Islamic State clash in Sahel

Recruits belonging to Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabab militant group march during a parade at a military training base in Afgoye, Somalia, on February 17, 2011. FEISAL OMAR/REUTERS

An Islamic State member waves a flag [Photo – Reuters]
The Islamic State and Al-Qaeda have turned their guns on each other in the Sahel, fracturing a period of cooperation that has held for years, according to experts.

The rival jihadist outfits have squared off in other theatres before, such as in Syria. But they have often worked in tandem in the Sahel, coordinating attacks, and even swapping fighters.

For years the semi-desert African region has seen conflict with Islamic militants, who first emerged in northern Mali in 2012 before integrating into the center of the country and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.

Sporadic clashes between Al-Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates appear to have escalated into full-blown combat in central Mali and Burkina Faso since the beginning of the year.

Experts and local officials point to disputes over territorial expansion or access to fodder crops as some of the reasons behind the fighting.

Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the United Nations special representative in Mali, said that the jihadist civil war is “no longer a secret”.

“We don’t know where it’s going to end, each one wants to get the upper hand over the other,” he said, explaining that the groups are fighting over land.

Al-Qaeda now under an alliance named GSIM first emerged in northern Mali in 2012 and then established itself in central Mali in 2015.

The Islamic State group’s history in the region is shorter. Islamic militant Abou Walid Al-Sahraoui founded the region’s franchise in 2015, and it is now active in the border regions linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.