DAKAR (Reuters) – Al Qaeda-linked militants in Mali claimed responsibility on Tuesday for an attack on a military base that killed at least 11 soldiers, saying it was revenge for the massacre of some 160 Fulani civilians last month, the SITE Intelligence Group said.
Sunday’s assault on a base in west-central Mali was the latest in a series of deadly raids by heavily armed jihadists, who have stepped up their attacks in central Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger in recent months.
The militants have tapped into festering tensions between semi-nomadic Fulani herders and farming communities across West Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region to try to win support among the Fulani, who often feel politically and socially marginalised.
Suspected militiamen from the Dogon ethnic group killed about 160 Fulani in the village of Ogossagou on March 23 in Mali’s worst ethnic bloodletting in living memory.
In a statement, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), the leading Islamist group in Mali, said its attack was “in commitment to its past vow to avenge and exact retribution for the martyrs from the Ogossagou massacre”, according to U.S.-based SITE, which monitors jihadist websites.
Previous Islamist attacks have led to reprisals by ethnic militia against Fulani civilians, feeding a cycle of violence that regional forces, U.N. peacekeepers and thousands of French troops deployed to the zone have proved unable to break.
JNIM said it had killed at least 16 soldiers and taken two hostage, while four of its own fighters died in combat. Mali’s Defence Ministry said on Saturday that 11 soldiers had been killed.
Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita appointed a new prime minister on Monday, days after the government resigned following pressure to respond to the Ogossagou massacre and other violence.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Leslie Adler)