||The lead section of this article may need to be rewritten. (January 2013)|
Flag of Ansar Dine
|Dates of operation||2012–present|
|Leader(s)||Iyad Ag Ghaly|
|Size||unknown (estimated: 500 - 2000)|
Ansar Dine (Arabic: أنصار الدين ʾAnṣār ad-Dīn, also transliterated Ançar Deen) means "helpers of the (Islamic) religion" or "defenders of the faith" in Arabic. Ansar Dine is a militant Islamist group led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, one of the most prominent leaders of the Tuareg rebellion in the 1990s. He is suspected of having ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (as well as other splinter Islamist groups) which is led by his cousin Hamada Ag Hama. Ansar Dine wants the imposition of strict Sharia law across Mali. The group's first action was in March 2012. The organization is not to be confused with the Sufi movement Ançar Dine, started in Southern Mali by Chérif Ousmane Haidara in the 1980s, which is fundamentally opposed to militant Islamism.
Ansar Dine has its main base among the Ifora tribe from the southern part of the Tuaregs' homeland. It has been linked with Al-Qaeda Organization in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) because its leader Iyad Ag Ghaly is the cousin of AQIM commander Hamada Ag Hama. In April 2012, Salma Belaala, a professor at Warwick University who does research on jihadism in North Africa said that this association was false, claiming that Ansar Dine was opposed to Al Qaeda. Ag Ghaly was also previously associated with the 1990 Tuareg rebellion. The group's members are reported to be from Mali, Algeria, and Nigeria. Omar Ould Hamaha, who served as Ansar Dine's spokesman after April 2012, became the military leader of the AQIM-affiliated Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MOJWA) in August 2012.
In Mopti, the Ansar Dine fighters obtained access to heavy construction equipment from fleeing construction workers and used them to build fighting positions. The fighting positions include an elaborate tunnel network and vehicular obstacles such as trenches.
Ansar Dine has reportedly carried out at least one convoy of 100 vehicles carrying soldiers equipped with small arms. There have also been rumors that fighters may have been able to obtain weapons from Libya's weapons depots after the fall of Muammar Gaddafi. The Ansar Dine arsenal also includes anti aircraft weapons which can be mounted on pickup trucks.
The group seeks to impose sharia law across Mali, including the Azawad region. Witnesses have said that Ansar Dine fighters wear long beards and fly black flags with the Shahada (Islamic creed) inscribed in white. According to different reports, unlike the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), Ansar Dine does not seek independence but rather to keep Mali intact and convert it into a rigid theocracy.
Participation in 2012 northern Mali conflict
On 21 March 2012, the group claimed control of Mali's vast northeast regions. The Agence France-Presse reported that Ansar Dine claimed to occupy the towns of Tinzaouaten, Tessalit, and Aguelhok, all close to the Algerian border, and that they had captured at least 110 civilian and military prisoners. France accused the group of summarily executing 82 soldiers and civilians in capturing Aguelhok, describing the group's tactics as "Al-Qaeda-style".
On 22 March, mutineering Malian soldiers unhappy with Amadou Toumani Touré overthrew the Malian government in a coup d'état. Taking advantage of Malian disarray, Ansar Dine and MNLA proceeded to take the towns of Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu within the following ten days. According to Jeremy Keenan of the School of Oriental and African Studies, Ansar Dine's military contribution was slight compared to the much larger MNLA: "What seems to happen is that when they move into a town, the MNLA take out the military base—not that there's much resistance—and Iyad [Ag Aghaly] goes into town and puts up his flag and starts bossing everyone around about sharia law".
On 3 April, the BBC reported that the group had started implementing Sharia law in Timbuktu. That day, Ag Ghaly gave a radio interview in Timbuktu announcing that Sharia would be enforced in the city, including the veiling of women, the stoning of adulterers, and the punitive mutilation of thieves. According to Timbuktu's mayor, the announcement caused nearly all of Timbuktu's Christian population to flee the city. On 6 April, the MNLA issued a declaration of independence. However, the military wing of Ansar Dine rejected it hours after it was issued.
Ansar Dine was reportedly responsible for the burning of the tomb of a Sufi saint, a UNESCO World Heritage site, on 4 May in Timbuktu. The group also blocked a humanitarian convoy bringing medical and food aid from reaching Timbuktu on 15 May, objecting to the presence of women in the welcoming committee set up by city residents; after negotiations, the convoy was released on the following day. In Gao, the group reportedly banned video games, Malian and Western music, bars, and football.
On 26 May, the MNLA and Ansar Dine announced a pact in which they would merge to form an Islamist state called the "Islamic Republic of Azawad".
However, some later reports indicated that the MNLA had decided to withdraw from the pact, distancing itself from Ansar Dine. MNLA and Ansar Dine continued to clash, culminating in the Battle of Gao on 27 June, in which Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa and Ansar Dine took control of the city, driving out the MNLA. The following day, Ansar Dine announced that it was in control of all the cities of northern Mali.
In the summer of 2012, members of Ansar Dine broke down the doors of the Sidi Yahya Mosque, which, according to legend, were not to be opened until the Last Days. They claimed that reverence for the site was idolatrous, but offered roughly $100 U.S. dollars to repair the mosque.
In late January 2013, during the French Operation Serval against the Islamist fighters in Northern Mali, a faction split off from Ansar Dine, led by Alghabass Ag Intalla(h). It calls itself the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA) and claims to be ready for negotiations and to reject extremism and terrorism as well as any association with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ansar Dine.|
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