Six UN peacekeepers have been killed in an ambush in Mali. Though it remains unclear who perpetrated the attack, at least one news agency has put the blame on the regional al Qaeda branch.
An attack on UN peacekeepers in northern Mali left six soldiers dead and 11 injured about 45 kilometers (30 miles) southwest of Timbuktu on Thursday. All of the victims came from Burkina Faso.
"This is a major attack," Lieutenant Colonel Jonas Lotsne, head of the Swedish UN contingent in Timbuktu, said on Wednesday. "There have been considerable losses, and at the moment we are doing all we can to assist, including by sending out a unit and medicalized support by helicopter."
Though officials have not yet announced whom they suspect of committing the attack, the Mauritanian News Agency has reported that regional group al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility; witnesses also told media that the assailants flew a jihadi flag on their vehicle. On June 20, opposing sides had signed a deal to work toward a settlement to a long-running conflict between the national government and Tuaregs and Arabs who want an independent state in the north. Officials did not believe that parties involved in the peace talks had launched the attack.
In 2012, Tuareg rebels in and around Timbuktu took advantage of a coup 1,000 kilometers south in the capital, Bamako, to force the military out of the north, which they had sought for themselves. They soon found their revolution hijacked by religious extremists and Arabs returning from fighting in Libya's civil war.
With the aid of French troops - and, occasionally, Tuareg fighters - the military took back the north in 2013, but has not fully put down the resistance. Last month, French soldiers killed two higher-ups of regional terror groups, but, just a week before, separatists managed to kill nine soldiers.
mkg/msh (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)