The death toll in a suicide attack on a Mali army camp in the African country’s north has risen to 77, a French military spokesman has said. A suicide bomber drove an explosives-laden vehicle to the military camp in Gao, Col Patrik Steiger said yesterday. The victims, all Malians, were soldiers and former fighters grouped together to try to stabilize the region after a 2015 peace agreement with the government.
A group linked to al-Qaida’s North Africa branch, al-Mourabitoun, claimed responsibility for the Wednesday attack, and warned of more to come to punish “all who were lured by France.” Steiger said he was uncertain about the number of injured, but it was reported as 150 on Wednesday night. The attack came days after French President Francois Hollande visited Gao. France intervened in Mali in 2013 to crush Islamist extremists who controlled much of northern Mali and threatened the south.
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While the French intervention has ended, French soldiers remain as part of a larger operation in the Sahel region. The former fighters at the camp include ethnic Tuareg secular rebels who once fought the Malian military as well as Malian soldiers and militia close to the Malian government. In a bid to bring peace to Mali, they are supposed to be forming joint patrols in the area, though the program has yet to begin.
The attack struck a major blow at peace efforts in Mali, where rival groups have been vying for control, or independence, in the north. The claim of responsibility said the attack was carried out by “a knight of the Mourabitoun battalion” of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group. The statement identified the attacker as “martyrdom-seeking hero Abdul Hadi al-Fulani.”
Al-Mourabitoun is led by the feared Mokhtar Bel-Mokhtar, who remains allied to al-Qaida. According to SITE, the responsibility claim read: “With this operation, we warn all who were lured by France to march (as) its allies” that “we do not permit” bases, patrols or war against Mujahedeen fighters.