While MUJAO and MBM's guys would eventually unite, the interesting part is that MBM's spokesman did not take credit for the Nov 19 attack and that Sahrawi had not released a statement for quite some time previous to this attack. As @MaliWitness says here, this could signal that MBM's usual spokesman has been arrested in a Nigerien military raid. Indeed, Abu Assim al Muhajir, MBM's usual spokesman, was reported to have been captured earlier this year. It is also important to note that the majority of MUJAO merged with MBM with Omar Hamaha, while a faction of MUJAO continues to operate under Sultan Ould Bady. Bady, whom had a falling out with Omar Hamaha and MBM, continues to lead a small faction, but the key takeaway is that the good majority of MUJAO is now with MBM.
Al Mourabitoun was also behind an attack Oct 30 that left nine Nigerien troops dead. In this attack, Al Mourabitoun targeted a Malian refugee camp, a military outpost, and a prison. Before that, French special forces arrested members of the al Mourabitoun Brigade in two operations in Mali and Niger. The Malian region of Gao, which borders the Tillaberi region of Niger, is known as a hub for al Mourabitoun.
It may be too early to tell, but it would appear that al Qaeda is stepping up operations in Niger. This would make sense as al Qaeda in Mali is conducting a guerrilla warfare campaign against French and African forces. However, by expanding the conflict outside of the borders of Mali, they will be able to derail a large-scale counterterrorism operation in northern Mali. With French forces trying to contain al Qaeda in Mali and eventually render them combat ineffective, conflict spilling into Niger would certainly cast a defeat for the French.
But operations aren't just picking up in Niger. Mali has also seen a sharp increase in attacks, as well.
Increase of attacks in Mali
On Nov 9, a civilian passenger bus was targeted by a roadside bomb. The attack left a "number" of civilians injured--thankfully no one was killed.
On Oct. 29, one French commando was killed after a fierce firefight in the Adrar Tigharghar mountain range in the northern Mali province of Kidal. The soldier, Thomas Dupuy, an Afghanistan war veteran, was killed when his unit came into contact with "30 Islamists," about 20 of whom were killed in the firefight, according to the French government. Dupuy is the 10th French soldier to die since January 2013.
On Oct. 3, nine UN troops were killed in an ambush in the Gao region of Mali. A few days later, Sultan Ould Bady claimed responsibility for the attack. The ambush came just two weeks after five Chadian troops were killed when they drove over a mine in the Kidal region of northern Mali.
On Sept. 2, four UN peacekeepers were killed in a roadside bomb attack near the city of Kidal. The attack came just days after AQIM had taken responsibility for several attacks in Mali, including an Aug. 16 suicide bombing that killed two UN troops in Ber, a town close to Timbuktu, and three other attacks near Timbuktu in June and July.
Earlier, on July 15, a French soldier was killed in an IED attack in northern Mali. Several other attacks in Mali have also been attributed to al Qaeda-linked forces this year. I have compiled a list and a map (seen above) for The Long War Journal of al Qaeda linked attacks in Mali and Niger this year. At least 23 attacks have been recorded this year in Mali and Niger, with 13 of the compiled 23 attacks have taken place since August, with almost half of those occurring in the month of October. Three attacks, including two in Niger, have happened in the month of November. The list, however, is not exhaustive as some attacks have likely been missed.