aka Ansar Dine; Ansar al-Din; Ancar Dine; Ansar ul-Din; Ansar Eddine; Defenders of the Faith
Description: Ansar al-Dine (AAD) was designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization on March 22, 2013. Operating in Mali, AAD was created in late 2011 after AAD's leader, Iyad ag Ghali, failed in an attempt to take over another secular Tuareg organization. Following the March 2012 coup that toppled the Malian government, AAD was among the organizations (including al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa) to take over northern Mali, destroy UNESCO World Heritage sites, and enforce a severe interpretation of Sharia law upon the civilian population living in the areas it controlled.
Beginning in January 2013, French and allied African forces conducted operations in northern Mali to counter AAD and other violent extremist groups, eventually forcing AAD and its allies out of the population centers they had seized. AAD's leader Iyad ag Ghali, however, remained free and in August 2014, Ghali appeared in an AAD video threatening to attack France.
Activities: AAD has received backing from AQIM in its fight against the Government of Mali – most notably in the capture of the Malian towns of Agulhok, Tessalit, Kidal, Gao, and Timbuktu – between January and April 2012. In March 2012, Tuareg rebels, reportedly including AAD, executed 82 Malian soldiers and kidnapped 30 others in an attack against the town of Aguelhok. Before the French intervention in January 2013, Malian citizens in towns under AAD's control who did not comply with AAD's laws, reportedly faced harassment, torture, or execution.
AAD was severely weakened by the French intervention in Mali, but continued to participate in and support attacks in Mali, reportedly including bringing arms and fighters into Kidal in September 2013, in advance of an AQIM-led attack that killed at least two civilians. In December 2014, AAD took responsibility for firing at least nine rockets at the UN base in Tessalit, Mali, and is suspected to have been behind a second rocket attack on the same base a few days later.
Strength: AAD has fractured and its members have been largely scattered by the French intervention in Mali. The group's membership numbers were unknown at the end of 2014.
Location/Area of Operation: Northern Mali, Southwestern Libya
Funding and External Aid: AAD cooperates closely with and has received support from AQIM since its inception, and some factions of AAD are believed to maintain close ties to the group.