BAMAKO: A powerful Al-Qaeda-linked group on Friday claimed an attack on a United Nations camp that killed three peacekeepers in Kidal in Mali’s troubled north.
The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links, posted a statement on its Telegram channel saying it had targeted the UN base “with a set of mortar shells”, wounding soldiers and causing significant material damage, the SITE extremism monitor reported.
The UN mission in Mali, MINUSMA, said earlier on Friday their Kidal camp “came under heavy rocket/mortar fire” and “a little later a position nearby was attacked” outside their base, killing three peacekeepers and wounding eight more.
The Group to Support Islam and Muslims, also known as Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimeen in Arabic, is a fusion of three Malian jihadist groups with previous Al-Qaeda links formed in March.
Led by the Malian jihadist Iyad Ag Ghaly, a former leader of the Ansar Dine Islamists, the group has claimed multiple attacks on domestic and foreign forces since its formation.
The UN mission said it “condemned in the strongest terms these cowardly attacks against its personnel and the danger they cause for the civilian population.”
The attack is just the latest to target the 12,000-strong force in the west African nation. Guinean and Chadian soldiers make up the majority of troops stationed at the Kidal camp.
MINUSMA began work in 2013, providing security and assisting Malian troops struggling to keep the country safe. It has been targeted constantly by jihadists, with dozens of peacekeepers killed.
Northern Mali fell to jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in March 2012, including Ansar Dine, and although these forces were driven out of key towns by a French-led military intervention the following year, the Islamists have now spread further south.
Since 2015, jihadists have targeted Mali’s center and their activities have spilled over into neighboring countries including Niger and Burkina Faso.
Their last attack killed two peacekeepers on May 23 near Aguelhok, near the border with Algeria, while a Liberian peacekeeper was killed earlier in May close to Timbuktu.
Both attacks were also claimed by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims.
France on Tuesday asked the UN Security Council to authorize the deployment of a five-nation African military force to buttress the fight against jihadists in the Sahel region, with its base in Mali.
The force would be under a separate command from MINUSMA and France’s own counter-terror force in the Sahel region, but will be backed by the UN and European Union. AFP