Al-Qaeda Branch in Mali Claims Kidnapping of Russian Wagner Group Fighter
On April 24th, 2022, the al-Qaeda branch Jama´at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims, JNIM) published a report through its official Az-Zallaqa media outlet claiming a series of attacks in Mali.
The claimed operations include a rocket attack on UN peacekeeping forces in Mali (MINUSMA) in the Kidal region on February 7, an IED attack on a Malian military vehicle near the village of Mora on April 14, and an IED attack against the Malian army, this time near the village of Mora, on April 16.
However, what stands out in the statement is JNIM’s claim that it captured a mercenary belonging to the Russian Wagner Group, a private military company operating in the area.
In the first week of the month of April, Allah granted upon his mujahidin servants the capture of a soldier from the Russian Wagner forces in the mountainous region in the state of Segou, those criminal forces which have participated with Malian forces in air landing operations on the Mora village market and clashed with a number of mujahidin in it, and after that village for a period of five days and killed hundreds of defenseless innocents, and there is no might nor power except in Allah the Mighty.
Their remark about the murder of innocents is in reference to the killing of between 200 and 400 people in Central Mali. The Malian Army and the Russian PMC are being blamed for the incidents, which took place between March 27 and April 1. Said parties denied these allegations and instead claim that the people killed in their operation were terrorists. They added that they would investigate the reported abuses. According to military sources, 200 people were killed after receiving information about a meeting between jihadist leaders in the area.
Nineteen witnesses state that Malian troops along with Russian mercenaries arrived by helicopter and exchanged gunfire with alleged jihadists. Reportedly, both militants and civilians, along with security personnel were killed in the firefight. After this, the troops are alleged to have deployed to the town and summarily executed local men.
The mercenaries were also accused of gathering unarmed people from their homes and taking them to the bank of a nearby river. Witnesses told Human Rights Watch many of the individuals arrested were traders from surrounding villages who came to the town livestock market. Others were said to be jihadist infiltrators. The prisoners were reportedly held for five days under the sun before being randomly selected for execution by gunshot. The bodies were then piled into three mass graves.
A survivor explained how he heard gunshots and afterwards, Russians approached him. Later, he reported how the mercenaries searched locals and their houses. Then, the military took people east of the village, near the river, with another 100 men. This same man’s brothers were allegedly killed by a separate group of government troops.
The JNIM statement continues by bragging about its battlefield success against its enemies:
The mujahidin also repelled the air landing operations which the mercenary armed forces undertook above the mountains of Banjagra about 70 kilometers from Sifari, and the mujahidin looted some of the mercenaries’ weapons who escaped and ran and got away and praise be to Allah.
JNIM concludes by noting that they only mentioned some of their recent operations and, therefore, may have carried out more.
Their claim of capturing a Wagner operator, if true, is a significant propaganda victory, and it is possible that the group will release further details over time.
The group may attempt to use their captive as leverage—perhaps for a prisoner exchange with the Malian government, concessions by the Kremlin, or simply a payout. However, their captive’s status as a private military contract might diminish his value.
This is seemingly the first incident of its kind involving jihadists and Wagner mercenaries in Mali. In the future, it is possible that we will see more Russian military contractors captured or killed by militants as the former becomes more entangled in the region.