The latest death toll revealed at least 77 people have been killed in a suicide bomb attack near a military camp housing government soldiers in northern Mali. A group allied to al Qaeda has claimed responsibility.
A suicide bomber on Wednesday detonated a vehicle laden with explosives in front of a military base in Mali's northern city of Gao. At least 40 people were killed and dozens more were injured, according to state media. A spokesperson for the United Nation's peacekeeping force Minusma warned that the death toll could rise.
Mali army spokesman Ly-col Diarran Kone said the suicide bomber "succeeded in tricking soldiers' vigilance" and penetrated the camp.
Al Qaeda affiliate claims attack
Al Mourabitoun, an Islamist group linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), later claimed responsibility for the attack, saying it was punishment for groups in the region cooperating with France. In a statement translated by the US-based SITE watchdog, the group also identified the bomber as Abdelhadi al-Foulanisaid.
Al Mourabitoun is believed to be behind a string of high-profile attacks targeting the military and civilians in Mali and other West African countries.
The base hit in Wednesday's bombing housed government soldiers, as well as members of Mali's various armed groups that jointly patrol the desert under the terms of the UN-brokered peace accord between the government and Islamist militants.
Some 11,000 UN peace keeping forces are currently deployed in the city, including 550 soldiers from the German armed forces.
The area remains insecure despite a French-led military intervention in January 2013 to drive back Islamist extremists who had taken over the north of the country.
Militants continue to operate in the area, while tension between local rebel groups and government-backed militias remains high.
Wednesday's attack coincided with a report published by rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) accusing Mali's government of failing to protect civilians in the northern and central regions from Islamic extremists. The report outlined how militants occupied villages, imposed a strict interpretation of Sharia law and forced families to give up their children to become fighters.
Corinne Dufka, an Associate Director at HRW and head of the group's work in West Africa, said "the situation in the past year has become markedly worse" with increasing instances of Islamist intimidation tactics and riots. The government's "failure" to regain control had led to a worsening of the situation.
dm,nm/jm (KNA, AP, Reuters, AFP)