Bamako (AFP) – The Malian headquarters of an international anti-terror task force, the G5 Sahel, were attacked on Friday in a car bomb blast, killing six people and leaving many injured, according to a provisional toll.
“Shortly after Friday prayers, a suicide bomber in a vehicle painted with UN colours blew up at the entrance to the G5 base in Sevare. It was a huge blast,” a military source in the G5 Sahel force told AFP.
It is the first attack on the headquarters of the five-nation force, set up in 2017 to roll back jihadist insurgents and criminal groups in the vast, unstable Sahel region.
It came three days before a meeting in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott between French President Emmanuel Macron and the heads of the G5 Sahel states to discuss progress made by the force.
A local orange seller, Haoussa Haidara, said “there was a huge blast” followed by gunfire which lasted more than an hour.
Six people were killed in the attack, according to a hospital and a military source, giving an interim toll.
“We transported the bodies and the injured to the hospital, but we don’t know whether some of the injured have died in hospital. There are six dead on the ground,” the military source told AFP.
Some of the injured were transported to the Somino Dolo hospital in the regional capital, Mopti.
The entrance to one of the base’s buildings was destroyed in the blast. It was unclear whether there were people in the building, the G5 Sahel source told AFP.
Residents in Sevare hid inside their homes, according to Bouba Bathily, a trader who sheltered from the gunfire in his house.
“Help came from everywhere — we’re not hearing gunshots at the moment,” Moussa Kalossi, a watchman in a hotel near the camp, told AFP.
The arrival of military support was confirmed by a Malian military source.
– Force’s problems –
Launched with French backing in 2017, the G5 Sahel aims at pooling 5,000 troops from five nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
It is scheduled to operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
The G5 Sahel was scheduled to be fully up and running in March, but its deployment has faced delays, equipment worries and accusations of human rights abuses.
On Tuesday, the UN said Malian soldiers within the G5 Sahel force had “summarily” executed 12 civilians in a market in central Mali in May in retaliation for the death of a soldier.
Malian Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said that the government had “taken the necessary measures” after the bloodshed, which he said he condemned.
France intervened militarily in Mali in 2013 to help government forces drive Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists out of the north.
But large tracts of the country remain lawless despite a peace accord signed with ethnic Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists. The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.
Earlier Friday, French military headquarters said troops from its so-called Barkhane mission in Mali had killed or captured 15 jihadists on June 22 in a joint operation with local forces.
The clash took place in a woodland area of the Inabelbel region, southeast of Timbuktu, it said in a statement.
A group of about 20 jihadists were attacked using helicopters and jet fighter support after they were spotted by Malian commandos, it said.