An armed group in Mali affiliated with al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for a deadly attack on the country’s main military base near the capital, which it said was a response to governmental collaboration with Russian mercenaries.
The Katiba Macina claimed the attack in the strategic garrison town near the Malian capital, according to the SITE Intelligence Group, a monitor which authenticated a statement from the group on Saturday.
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Friday’s raid on the Kati base 15 kilometres (nine miles) outside Bamako killed at least one soldier and was the first time in Mali’s decade-long rebellion that an armed group has hit a military camp so close to Bamako.
Six people were wounded in the raid, which was carried out using two car bombs, while seven assailants were killed and eight were arrested, Mali’s military said.
The media unit for al-Qaeda’s local affiliate, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), said in a statement its Katiba Macina branch had carried out the attack, according to a translation by SITE.
JNIM, the main armed alliance in the Sahel region whose influence on the ground continues to expand, comprises a myriad of groups including the Katiba Macina and operates mainly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
The group has been present in Mali since early 2021, according to Western diplomats.
The Malian military blamed Katiba Macina for the attack on Friday.
The JNIM statement said a Malian group member had detonated a car bomb at the base’s gate and another member from Burkina Faso detonated another inside the base, allowing additional fighters to enter the camp.
It justified the attack by citing the presence in Mali of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, which began supplying hundreds of fighters last year to support the Malian military and has since been accused by human rights groups and locals of participating in massacres of civilians.
On Friday, “a brigade of mujahideen conducted a blessed operation against the Malian army, the unjust killer of innocents, at the most notorious place in the capital Bamako, near the headquarters of the president and the defence ministry”.
The target was also near the residence of Assimi Goita, the head of the military government, and the powerful defence minister.
The Russian government has acknowledged Wagner personnel are in Mali, but the Malian government has described them as instructors from the Russian military rather than private security contractors. Wagner has no public representation and has not commented on the accusations of human rights violations.
A spat with France triggered a pullout of French forces that have been fighting rebels in Mali for nearly a decade. The withdrawal is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
In a separate statement on Saturday, JNIM also claimed responsibility for attacks in five central and southern Mali towns on Thursday, which the Malian military said had killed one soldier and wounded 15 others.