The United States imposed sanctions Thursday on a senior jihadist leader and preacher from Mali for his membership in Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), an al-Qaida affiliate active in the Sahel region of Africa.
Amadou Kouffa led Mali's Macina Liberation Front militant group before announcing its merger with JNIM and three other Islamist groups in March 2017. The U.S. State Department designated JNIM as a terrorist organization in September 2018.
Since its formation, JNIM has targeted Malian and French troops, as well as U.N. peacekeepers. The group has been blamed for the deaths of more than 500 civilians and the kidnapping of dozens of others in attacks in the Sahel region, including the June 2017 attack at a resort frequented by Westerners outside Bamako, Mali, and the March 2018 attacks in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
"Earlier this year, Kouffa led an attack against the Malian army in which more than 20 soldiers were killed," the State Department said in a statement.
The State Department said the terrorist designation aims to deny Kouffa the resources to plan and carry out more terrorist attacks. Among other consequences, it prohibits U.S. nationals from engaging in any transactions with him.
"Today's designation notifies the U.S. public and the international community that Amadou Kouffa has committed, or poses a significant risk of committing, acts of terrorism," the department added.
Who is Kouffa?
A radical preacher from the central Malian town of Mopti, Kouffa has worked to exploit the rivalry between Muslim Fulanis and the Bambara ethnic group in the country to advance his agenda. In his messages to supporters, he has often called for rebuilding the 19th-century Massina Empire extending from Mali to Senegal and Nigeria.
The French Defense Ministry and Malian army officials reported Kouffa killed in a French raid in Mali’s Mopti Region in November 2018.
In February 2019, Kouffa reappeared in a 19-minute video in which he mocked news of his demise and called on his supporters to continue targeting the Malian and French military forces.
France, the former colonial power in the region, has fought JNIM and other radical groups in Mali and other countries of the Sahel region for years. It intervened in Operation Serval in 2013 to help the Malian government push back against advancing Islamist militants from the north. The intervention has reportedly helped contain the jihadist threat but has failed to eliminate it.
France's Defense Ministry announced this week that its forces in Mali killed Ali Maychou last month. Maychou was second-in-command of JNIM, behind leader Iyad Ag Ghaly.