Mali. Mali authorities received harsh criticism from
several neighboring countries after releasing four members
of the al-Qaeda terrorist movement in Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)
in February after threatening to kill a Frenchman taken
hostage. Algeria and Mauritania temporarily called their
ambassadors from Bamako in protest against the releases,
which, according to the Mauritanian government, exposed the
entire region to great risks.
Mali has a population of 19.08 million (2018). AQIM, the majority of which are Algerians, has in recent
years conducted a series of kidnappings of Westerners in the
desert areas of Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger. The
four countries, trained in counter-terrorism by US experts,
decided in April to establish a joint military headquarters
in the southern Algerian desert town of Tamanrasset to
coordinate efforts against AQIM. Several Western governments
warned their citizens to travel to northeast Mali, which,
among other things, hit hard on ongoing aid projects.
In early November, Mauritanian soldiers came to northern
Mali for the first time to patrol the desert there along
with Malian allies.