A passenger boat near the city of Timbuktu on the Niger River and a Malian military position in Bamba further downstream in the Gao region were targeted, according to a statement from the military junta read on state television. It said the attacks have been claimed by JNIM, an umbrella coalition of armed groups aligned with Al Qaeda.
The Malian government killed about 50 assailants while responding to the attacks, the announcement said. It said also declared three days of national mourning from Friday to honor the civilians and soldiers killed in the attacks.
Al Qaeda affiliated and Islamic State-linked groups have almost doubled the territory they control in Mali in less than a year, the United Nations said in a report last month, as they take advantage of a weak government and of armed groups that signed a 2015 peace agreement.
The stalled implementation of the peace deal and sustained attacks on communities have offered the IS group and Al Qaeda affiliates a chance “to re-enact the 2012 scenario,” they said.
That’s the year when a military coup took place in the West African country and rebels in the north formed an Islamic state two months later. The extremist rebels were forced from power in the north with the help of a French-led military operation, but they moved from the arid north to more populated central Mali in 2015 and remain active.
In August 2020, Mali’s president was overthrown in a coup that included an army colonel who carried out a second coup and was sworn in as president in June 2021. He developed ties to Russia’s military and Russia’s Wagner mercenary group whose head, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a plane crash in Russia on Aug. 23.
Timbuktu has been blockaded by armed groups since late August, when the Malian army deployed reinforcements to the region. The insurgents are preventing the desert city from being supplied with basic goods.
Over 30,000 residents have fled the city and a nearby region, according to an August report by the United Nations’ humanitarian agency.
The deadly attacks come as the U.N. prepares to withdraw its 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission MINUSMA from Mali at the government’s request. The pullout is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.
The U.N. deployed peacekeepers in 2013 and MINUSMA has become the most dangerous U.N. mission in the world, with more than 300 personnel killed.
The growing insecurity in Mali has increased instability in West Africa’s volatile Sahel region. Mali has had two coups since 2020 in which the military vowed to stop the jihadi violence.