Soumaïla Cissé, the main leader of the political opposition in Mali, was abducted along with six members of his team while campaigning in the Niafunké region, where he is a candidate for the legislative elections to be held on March 29, the Malian government has confirmed. The abduction happened on Wednesday, March 25, at around 3:30 p.m. local time, according to the Union for the Republic and Democracy, Cissé’s party. The UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA has announced it was investigating Cissé’s disappearance and was deploying aerial craft to surveil the area where the group had been ambushed. The Niafunké region, about 170 kilometers southwest of Timbuktu, is a known operating zone for jihadist militias linked to al-Qaida.
Why It Matters
The identity of the abductors was unknown at the time of writing, but if Cisse’s abduction was in fact the responsibility of al-Qaida-affiliated jihadists, this marked a sudden escalation of their tactics. They have attacked military and civilian targets, but the abduction of a member of parliament is unprecedented since the Malian crisis began in 2012. Ahead of Sunday’s elections, this news is likely to negatively affect the turnout as voters realize their safety cannot be guaranteed, since national security forces cannot even keep a prominent politician safe.