This propaganda image supposedly shows freed prisoners with their leader Iyad Ag Ghaly, the emir of Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam wal-Mouslimin (Jnim).
Photos of a banquet bringing together prisoners released last week in exchange for hostages, including Sophie Pétronin, were posted on social networks. They are genuine.
Question asked by Boris on 10/13/2020
Figures of the armed Islamist struggle, barely out of Bamako jails in exchange for hostages, did they celebrate their release at a banquet organized by the leader of a local terrorist group? For several days, images have been circulating, relayed by several journalists and specialists in the Sahel on Twitter, as here:
Plates overflowing with couscous, grilled meat and fruit, surrounded by dozens of men wearing colorful outfits and scarves around their heads in northern Mali. These images are indeed not those of a banal celebration, but the photos of a banquet organized with great fanfare by the leader of a local terrorist group to welcome Malian prisoners released last week in exchange for four hostages, including Franco-Swiss humanitarian Sophie Pétronin.
Libé, who was able to consult the list of 200 prisoners released in the transaction, revealed yesterday in an investigation that at least 29 released prisoners had been captured by French soldiers, that about sixty had been involved in violent acts linked to the movement jihadist, and that several are accused of having participated in deadly attacks against the peacekeepers of the United Nations Mission in Mali (Minusma). Among the figures of the armed Islamist movements released in the transaction, some are recognizable in the images of the feast.
From local WhatsApp to global Twitter
The photo journey begins on the evening of Saturday, October 10. At around 9 p.m. French time, the same images showing dozens of men gathered around a barbecue, and especially around Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of the armed Islamist group Jamaat Nosrat al-Islam wal-Mouslimin (who ‘we can translate into French by Support Group for Islam and Muslims), are starting to circulate on local WhatsApp groups. These photos are also sent directly to several journalists and specialists recognized in the region by various sources present near Tessalit, in northern Mali, in contact with armed groups. It is then
Réception des terroristes libérés des geôles du Mali du Burkina et de la Côte d'ivoire par Iyad ag ghali en personne en échange des 4 otages . Une fête a été organisée en leur honneur. Voilà le service après vente de la fameuse lutte anti-terroriste dans le Sahel . pic.twitter.com/pif9h2EWeQ— Fenelon MASSALA (@rfemassala) October 10, 2020
#Sahel photos inédites des jihadistes libérés par #Bamako #Mali en contrepartie de la libération des otages et accueillis par Iyad Ag Ghali Abou al-Fadil émir #JNIM en personne #AQMI pic.twitter.com/bFIHcC8GSn— Wassim Nasr (@SimNasr) October 10, 2020
that these journalists and specialists share the photos, which are quickly exported beyond the North Malian borders to go around the world.
#Mali: dans le Nord, l’émir djihadiste, Iyad Ag Ghali organise une grande réception pour ses combattants, ex prisonniers échangés contre les otages 3 otages européens et l’opposant Soumaïla Cissé. C’est le moment de négocier la paix après 7 ans de guerre non nécessaire. pic.twitter.com/UVEe23WrmM— Baba Ahmed (@Baba_A_) October 10, 2020
After checking with image analysis tools like TinEye and reverse image searches on Google, the shared snapshots did not actually appear on the Internet before October 10, 2020. An article from the Malian web media Le Jalon suggests that the photos would have been taken on October 10, if we are to believe their analysis of the metadata of these photos with the tool Fotoforensics.
However, several of the specialists who shared the photos on Twitter say that the banquet represented would have taken place a few days before the images were posted online, between October 7 and 8. Wassim Nasr, journalist and analyst watchman specializing in jihadist movements, and one of the first to post the photos on Twitter, explains: “I received the images from two different sources, one local and the other close to the jihadists. In addition to that, what prompted me to publish the images on the evening of the 10th was that I had already been informed two days earlier that there were festivities in the north of the country, that corroborated therefore with the information I had. ” Rida Lyammouri, Sahel specialist for the Moroccan think tank Policy Center for the New South, confirms this date. “My sources dated the meeting to October 7 or 8. The release of some of the prisoners took place in Tessalit on the 6th, and this celebration must have taken place in the region, between 100 to 200 km around the liberation zone, 24 to 48 hours later. “
The confusion regarding the feast day can be explained by the fact that the images having been shared on WhatsApp and then on Twitter, it is actually complicated to analyze their metadata directly, with social networks overwriting this information. The dates appearing are therefore those of the sharing on social networks, and not necessarily those of the shooting.
Several figures of Islamist armed movements
On the shared photos, we therefore see dozens of people, who eat, who talk or pray. And among them, very recognizable by his turban and his white outfit as well as his graying beard, we find, present in most of the photos, Iyad Ag Ghali. It is this Malian Tuareg who is today at the head of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the armed movement which held the four hostages (Soumaïla Cissé, Sophie Pétronin, Nicola Chiacchio and Pier Luigi Maccalli ) released last week, and which brings together several armed groups that have pledged allegiance to Al-Qaeda. It is also he who would have organized the whole event presented in the photos, although he is not used to appearing in public, since he is still wanted by the authorities.
At his side, several figures of local Islamist armed movements, among those who left Bamako jails last week, were recognized by specialists. The survey published yesterday in Libé thus evokes in particular the Algerian Tahar al-Jazairi, veteran of the jihad and former member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC), the matrix of armed Islamism in the Sahara, or Mahmoud Barry, one of the founding executives of katiba Macina, the most powerful jihadist organization in central Mali. On the other hand, the two “big fish”, Mimi Ould Baba Ould Cheikh and Fawaz Ould Ahmed known as “Ibrahim 10”, considered to have taken part in the organization of several deadly attacks, and whose potential release had raised many questions , are not on the images of the feast.
Among the men present in the images shared on Twitter, there are also inhabitants of the region probably invited to the feast, decrypts Wassim Nasr. “Iyad Ag Ghali wanted to let the people of the region know that he is there, and that he is powerful, explains the journalist, that makes him the habit of a savior which offers a feast to the population of this very poor area. ” Rida Lyammouri goes further by calling the event a “Real propaganda”. For this specialist who has been working in the region for more than ten years, “It is a way to show that the group and Iyad Ag Ghali have never stopped looking for ways to release these prisoners, and also a way to encourage future recruits to take risks, since if they are arrested , the group will do everything to free them ”.
Why did the authorities not intervene?
These photos having circulated on local WhatsApp groups then on Twitter, and jihadists being clearly identifiable, some Internet users wondered about the inaction of the authorities.
Wassim Nasr, who followed the process of negotiations leading to the release of the four hostages and the 200 prisoners, explains that, following the release of the prisoners, “Three days of latency have been put in place, that is to say three days to allow time for prisoners to leave, and hostages to be transported”. This is why Sophie Pétronin made her first appearance as a freed hostage on October 8, despite the publication of a
In addition, Rida Lyammouri adds that the photos were not shared until October 10, potentially two days after the party, the authorities may simply not have been aware of this banquet, and of its exact location. “We must not forget that the strength of groups like the Jnim is their knowledge of the land and its hiding places”, he explains. On the other hand, capturing prisoners immediately after their release could be seen as “A lack of respect, and create mistrust among the jihadists for potential future negotiations, in an area where kidnappings are frequent”.
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