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Wave of attacks in the Sahel leaves at least 55 dead, including a Russian serviceman

Mali government acknowledges for the first time the death of a mercenary allegedly linked to the Wagner Group
Cartel Putin Mali

PHOTO/AP  -   Malienses se manifiestan contra Francia y en apoyo de Rusia en el 60º aniversario de la independencia de la República de Malí en 1960, en Bamako, Malí, el 22 de septiembre de 2020. La pancarta en francés dice: "Putin, el camino hacia el futuro"

Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the Sahel countries most affected by jihadist terrorism, suffered a wave of attacks in the last week that left at least 55 dead among security forces, alleged terrorists and civilians, one of them a Russian "instructor" killed when a device exploded in a Malian town. 

The unstable security situation in this African region has worsened in recent days with several attacks in different parts of the three countries and with the novelty that, for the first time, Mali has recognised the death of a Russian military officer in the country, allegedly a mercenary of the Wagner Group, linked to the Kremlin, whose presence in the African country has been repeatedly denounced by France.  

The Malian armed forces reported that a Russian "instructor" was killed when a homemade device exploded last Tuesday as a convoy of Russian and Malian troops passed by at the entrance to the town of Hombori in the east of the country, an attack that was followed by a "raid" in which at least 18 people were killed on the "enemy side", the army said.

Fosa común
AP/FRENCH ARMY  -   This image taken by the French army shows Russian soldiers burying corpses near an army base in northern Mali

However, witnesses told Efe that the vast majority of those killed were civilians buying and selling goods at the town's weekly market, where thousands of people congregate. 

Last Friday, the Malian army reported the discovery of bodies in a "mass grave" near a barracks in the town of Gossi, which until Tuesday was under the control of the French anti-terrorist force Barkhane, in the process of withdrawing from the country precisely because of Wagner's alleged presence in Mali. 

He did so after the publication in several French media of images recorded by the French army with a drone showing alleged Russian mercenaries burying corpses on Thursday three kilometres from the barracks, bodies that could have come from Hombori, from where, according to witnesses, 18 corpses were taken in a truck. 

The images were released by France hours before the Malian army's announcement, with the intention of pre-empting an alleged disinformation operation by the Malian coup government to blame the French for the "mass grave".  

Operación antiterrorista Sahel
REUTERS/PAUL LORGERIE  -   Malian soldiers during a patrol with soldiers of the new Takuba force near the border with Niger in the Dansongo Circle, Mali on 23 August 2021

Coinciding with Mali's announcement of the death of the Russian soldier in Hombori, the Al Qaeda loyalist Islam and Muslim Support Group today announced the capture during the first week of April of "a soldier of the Russian forces" in the region of Ségou, east of Bamako. This region was the site of two of the three simultaneous car bombings on Sunday of several barracks in the country, a technique rarely used by Sahel terrorists.  

At least six Malian soldiers and policemen were killed in the attacks, in Bapho and Niono in Ségou and in Sevaré in the neighbouring region of Mopti, as well as eleven other suspected terrorists, according to the Malian army. 

A day earlier, on Saturday, there was an attack in Niger with an artisanal mine that left four Nigerien gendarmes dead, local sources explained to Efe, without this attack having been officially confirmed for the moment. 

In recent days, the Islamic State has reported several terrorist actions in Niger that have not been officially confirmed. It has done so through the Amaq agency, the propaganda organ of the jihadist group, where it claimed to have killed four civilians and two soldiers in three attacks perpetrated in the region of Diffa, in the extreme southeast of the country. 

G5 Sahel
PHOTO/REUTERS  -   G5 Sahel Defence Academy logo in Nouakchott, Mauritania

The attacks in Niger coincide with parliament's authorisation last Friday of the deployment of the French Barkhane and European Takuba forces, which were operating in Mali against terrorism. 

A security source told Efe that the Nigerien regions of Tillabéri, Tahoua, Dosso and Maradi are expected to host the Barkhane and Takuba settlements.  

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso share a border in an area particularly plagued by terrorism. Fifteen people, including nine soldiers, were killed yesterday in two attacks by suspected terrorists on military detachments in this region of Burkina Faso, according to the Burkinabe army.