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Mali mourns massacre victims

June 21, 2022

The UN has offered to help investigate the killing of more than 130 people by alleged jihadis in central Mali. The country's interim government has declared three days of national mourning.

Malian soldiers sitting in a pick-up truck
Mali has been battling armed insurgents since 2012Image: Hans Lucas/IMAGO

Attacks by gunmen, said to be jihadis, were ongoing on Monday in central Mali, where at least 130 civilians were massacred on the weekend. 

"Even this morning, my village is under fire," a witness, who wished to remain anonymous because of security concerns, told DW in a phone interview on Monday. 

"Our families are fleeing because they are afraid their village will be the next to be attacked by armed groups." 

The fighting comes despite the fact that the area under attack is only 5 kilometers (3 miles) from a military base in Bandiagara, in Mali's central Mopti region.

National mourning

Mali's interim government, led by Colonel Assimi Goita, on Monday declared three days of mourning for the people killed in the massacre in three Malian villages in the Bankass area of the Mopti region over the weekend. 

It also said 132 civilians had been "coldly killed" in the Bankass area and blamed the massacre on fighters of the Macina Katiba of Amadou Kouffa, an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Witnesses, however, told the AFP news agency that they believed the death toll could be much higher.

Infographic showing the number of civilians killed in Mali from 2017 to 2022

The gunmen are said to have accused the victims of conspiring with mercenaries from the Russian Wagner group, which is supporting Mali's army in the fight against Islamic terrorists, according to AFP.

"They have also been burning huts, houses, and stealing cattle — it's really a free-for-all," an official told AFP on condition of anonymity. 

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) tweeted its condemnation of the attacks in central Mali, saying in a linked statement that it was concerned by "attacks against civilians in the Bandiagara region perpetrated by extremist groups. These attacks have reportedly caused casualties and displacement of populations."

In its statement, MINUSMA also offered help with care and evacuation of the injured, as well as help investigate the massacres.

A MINUSMA team based in Mopti visited the crime scenes with local authorities on Monday.

Widening insurgency

Jihadis frequently target civilians in reprisal attacks for collaborating with those who it sees as its enemy, namely Mali's government and its army. 

Since 2012, Mali has been battling a jihadist insurgency with links to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State.

The violence that started in the north of the Sahel country has since spread to central Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and, most recently, Benin and Togo.

A large portion of Mali is beyond the control of the interim government, which took power in a coup in May 2021.

Self-defense militias and jihadist groups have filled this power vacuum.

Thousands displaced in Menaka

The violence is also ongoing in other regions of Mali. 

In the northeastern region of Menaka, near the triborder zone of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, more than 1,000 civilians have been killed and 90,000 displaced, Fahad Ag Al Mahmoud, spokesperson for the GATIA movement — a pro-government armed militia actively fighting the jihadis in central Mali — told DW.

Map of Mali shows Bamako in the south, Burkina Faso next door and Niger to the east

"The situation is very critical because the herders can no longer stay in their homes," Al Mahmoud said. 

"For those lucky enough to survive, they have been forced to go to the town of Menaka," he said, referring to the region's administrative capital.

He warned that all the inhabitants would end up in Menaka town in the coming days if nothing were done to stop the violence. 

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) this week claimed to have killed more than 145 fighters from the mostly Tuareg-led militias fighting the jihadists in Menaka.

Power vacuum

Last week, the head of the UN mission to Mali, El-Ghassim Wane, warned that Menaka would be left vulnerable to attacks after French troops handed over a military outpost in the region on June 14.

France will soon entirely withdraw its forces from its last base in the neighboring Gao region and end its Barkhane mission, which began nine years ago.

Just days after the French withdrawal, the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad, another militia fighting the Islamists, claimed that 22 people had been killed by "armed men" in the locality of Izingaz in the Menaka region. No other sources have confirmed this information.

French troops in Mali
France is expected to completely withdraw its troops from Mali in the next few monthsImage: EtatMajordes Armées

Violence spreading throughout Sahel

In the central Sahel region, the number of civilians killed in attacks blamed on extremist groups has nearly doubled since 2020, according to a report released by a coalition of West African NGOs.

In northern Burkina Faso, Islamist extremists killed at least 79 people in Seytenga in June.

The UN Security Council has expressed concern about the deteriorating security situation in Mali's north and central regions as well as along its borders with Burkina Faso and Niger.

Infographic showing the number of violent incidents in Mali from 2017 to 2022

This article is based on a French article written by DW journalist Bob Barry as well as other interviews conducted by him.

Edited by: Kate Hairsine