Mali’s security issues: envoy issues stark warning over election campaign

US envoy in Mali shares intelligence on chemical weapons training in Mali

The US ambassador to Mali has warned Russian operatives not to interfere in election campaigning this week because they “risk making an already tense situation worse”.

Bertrand Baraybar, speaking at a briefing for reporters on Wednesday, said he shared intelligence on Russian diplomats suspected of facilitating the group Malakevir, an alleged pro-Assad organization, to carry out cyberattacks on US political figures and causes and disrupting social media activities during the presidential elections in the United States earlier this year.

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“Whether you call this a cybersecurity activity or a geopolitical campaign is not really a point to be concerned about,” Baraybar said. “What I’m worried about is, the Russians are using the technology they have developed to gain access to confidential information and to exert influence on the community.”

The ambassadors of Mali and Ethiopia also raised concerns on Wednesday about the increasingly active group’s presence in their countries.

Baraybar was head of the US embassy in Mali until he joined the Trump administration as ambassador to Tanzania in March.

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He said both Mali and Ethiopia had received reports in the past few weeks that members of Malakevir had trained the head of the armed wing of the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, the Mokhtar Belmokhtar, on chemical weapons training in Mali. He said it was not clear if Malakevir was acting for the Syrian government.

“We are very concerned about what they have done in the past,” Baraybar said, adding that other pro-Assad groups were also in Mali. “This is a concern about an organization that has created an effort of assassination and killing.”

Baraybar said Nigeria is a concern for the US and warned of the return of Boko Haram. He expressed concern about several recent attacks in Nigeria and vowed the US would “use all the tools we have in our arsenal” to increase counter-terrorism cooperation.

Baraybar declined to comment on the consequences for the election in Mali, saying he didn’t want to jeopardize the electoral process. But he referred questions about the election to the head of the electoral commission, saying they could not “impose” any political preconditions on the commission.

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