Mali says jihadist attack at key garrison town thwarted

·3-min read

Mali said it had repelled a suicide raid Friday by Al-Qaeda-linked jihadists at a town on the fringes of the capital that houses a base used by the ruling military.

One of Africa's most troubled states, Mali is struggling with jihadist insurgents and political turbulence, experiencing two coups within the last two years.

"Suicide" attackers aboard two explosive-laden vehicles attacked an army depot at the garrison town of Kati, 15 kilometres (nine miles) from Bamako, the army said in a statement.

The Malian armed forces "have... contained a desperate attempt by terrorists from the Katiba Macina", it said, referring to an affiliate of the Al-Qaeda jihadist group.

One soldier was killed and six other people including a civilian were wounded, while seven attackers were "neutralised" and eight were detained, it said.

The attack, launched at around 0500 GMT, was mounted against "an installation of the army department for equipment, hydrocarbons and transport", it added.

Residents said they heard gunfire and explosions at dawn.

"We were woken up at five o'clock by firing, by explosions, we don't know what's going on," said one resident.

Another source said: "Our base is being attacked."

Several hours later, an AFP correspondent heard detonations as special forces personnel were deployed in the area and helicopters flew over the base.

By midday, the helicopters had landed, and normal life had resumed in the town.

- Goita's residence -

The US embassy in Mali condemned the attacks "in the strongest terms", while African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat said he was encouraging all efforts to restore security.

The depot lies outside a base that is a major hub for the ruling military, which has been behind a string of coups since Mali gained independence from France in 1960.

The camp is reputedly the residence of strongman Colonel Assimi Goita, who is Mali's transitional president, and Defence Minister Colonel Sadio Camara.

The base was the springboard for mounting a putsch led by Goita in August 2020, and afterwards was used to detain the ousted elected president, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

After another coup the following May, the base was then used to hold Keita's successor, Bah Ndaw, and prime minister Moctar Ouane.

Keita was forced out after mounting protests at failures to stem a jihadist campaign that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 and then spread to the country's volatile centre, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Across the three countries, thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed and more than two million people have fled their homes.

- Turbulence -

The camp at Kati has never been hit in the insurgency.

Friday's attack came a day after suspected jihadists carried out six simultaneous raids -- also launched at dawn -- on security positions in the regions of Segou and Mopti in the centre of the country and in Koulikoro, near Bamako.

In May 2021, the junta led by Goita staged a second coup, forcing out a civilian-led government.

Since then, it has forged closer ties with the Kremlin, bringing in Russian personnel, while relations with other international partners have suffered.

A spat with France has triggered a pull-out of French forces that have been fighting jihadists in Mali for nearly a decade. The withdrawal is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.

Tensions, meanwhile, have brewed with the UN's peacekeeping force MINUSMA, whose spokesman this week was told to leave the country.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali after the military seized power, and in January imposed a tough trade and financial embargo on the Sahel country.

It lifted those sanctions earlier this month after accepting a timeline for a return to civilian rule by March 2024.

The ECOWAS mediator in Mali, former Nigerian leader Goodluck Jonathan, was in Bamako on Friday and backed Goita's efforts in the fight terrorism.

Jonathan also said he was "satisfied" with the ongoing transition to civilian rule, according to a statement by the Malian presidency.

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