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Pockets of terrorist activity present hazards in Mali, warns State Department

Bamako, Mali

The U.S. Department of State warned U.S. travelers and diplomats in Mali that terrorist dangers still lurk in parts of the country after the French-lead offensive rolled them back in January.

The department issued a travel warning on March 22 warning U.S. citizens against all travel to Mali because of ongoing fighting in the northern part of the country, fluid political conditions, and continuing threats of attacks and kidnappings of westerners.

It also designated Islamist group Ansar al Dine as a terrorist organization on March 21. The group was added to the list of the agency’s Al Qaeda-affiliated organizations, freezing any assets of the group in the U.S. and for bidding U.S. citizens from transactions with the group. Ansar al Dine, along with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are linked to factions still operating to some extent in the northern part of the country, it said. The same day, the United Nations Security Council also listed Ansar al Dine as a terrorist organization.

"Ansar al-Dine is an organization operating in Mali which cooperates closely with al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb, a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization," the State Department said in a statement on March 21. "Before the French intervention in January 2013, Malian citizens in towns under AAD's control who did not comply with AAD's laws faced harassment, torture, or execution."

In a March 22 travel warning on its Web site, the State Department said security in Bamako, the Malian capital and the country’s largest city, “remains relatively stable,” but ongoing security concerns and military operations in the northern and western parts of the country are worrisome. On March 19, it ordered the departure for the children of U.S. diplomats in the country, including school-aged children, eligible family members and non-school age.

It said elements of AQIM, Ansar al-Dine, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and other groups continue to be present in northern Mali, although they have been mostly dislodged from major population centers, including Gao and Kidal. It noted that on November 20, 2012, a French citizen was kidnapped by MUJAO from Diema, Koulikoro Region, and terrorist groups have stepped up their rhetoric calling for additional attacks or kidnapping attempts on westerners, particularly those linked to support for international military intervention.

The January 10-11 offensive by French forces and the Malian government pushed the terrorist groups back into the north, but for safety and security concerns, some organizations, including foreign companies, non-government organizations (NGOs), and private aid organizations, have temporarily suspended operations in the country or withdrawn some family members and/or staff, according to the State Department.

The U.S. embassy, said the warning, has instructed embassy employees and dependents to be cautious when traveling within Bamako and encouraged U.S. citizens to use caution, remain vigilant, maintain situational awareness at all times.

The U.S. embassy has also forbidden all travel by U.S. government employees and their dependents to regions north of the city of Mopti because of insecurity in areas around the city, including the presence of AQIM and the threat of kidnapping, as well as banditry.