Mali: More than 130 civilians killed by suspected jihadists in the center of the country

More than 130 civilians have been killed in central Mali in attacks attributed to Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists, one of the country's worst known massacres and the latest in an ongoing series of killings across the country. Sahel.

Local elected officials have reported scenes of systematic massacres perpetrated a few days ago by armed men in Diallassagou and in two surrounding localities in the circle of Bankass in the center of the country, one of the main centers of violence which is bloodying the Sahel for years.

“We lost relatives, big brothers, uncles, equipment (was) destroyed, animals taken away, clothes, everything,” said a local elected official speaking in Bamako on condition of anonymity for security reasons.

“There is nothing left of Diallassagou. Diallassagou, the richest town in the circle of Bankass…”, he moaned.

The government has reported 132 deaths which it blamed on Al-Qaeda-affiliated Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa's Katiba Macina.

Released Monday afternoon from silence as alarming information proliferated since the weekend on social networks, the government dates the events of the night from Saturday to Sunday. Others date them back to Friday.

The leader of the junta in power since August 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta, has declared three days of national mourning.

In a statement adopted Monday in New York unanimously by its 15 members, the UN Security Council “condemned in the strongest terms” the killings near Gao and Bankass.

Various interlocutors of AFP indicated that we continued to count the dead. Nouhoum Togo, president of a party based in Bankass, the main locality in the sector, speaks of an even higher number of victims.

Nouhoum Togo told AFP that the area had been the scene two weeks ago of army operations which had given rise to clashes with the jihadists. The latter would have returned to several dozen on motorcycles, Friday according to him, to take revenge against the populations, he said.

“They arrived and said to people: + you are not Muslims + in Fulani language. So they took the men away, a hundred people left with them. Two kilometers away, they shot people systematically,” he said.

“Even today, we continued to pick up the bodies in the surrounding communes of Diallassagou,” he added.

Since the appearance in 2015 of the Katiba Macina in central Mali, the region has been subjected to jihadist abuses, the actions of self-defense militias and inter-community reprisals. Much of the area is beyond the control of the central state.

Profound security, political and humanitarian crisis

On March 23, 2019, more than 160 Fulani civilians were massacred in the village of Ogossagou.

But it is all of Mali that has been plunged into a deep security, political and humanitarian crisis since the outbreak of independence and jihadist insurgencies in 2012 in the north. The jihadist spread has spread to the center and neighboring countries, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The soldiers who took power by force in August 2020 after months of popular protest directed in particular against the inability of the civilian government to stop the deadly spiral have made the restoration of security their priority. They turned away from Mali's former military allies, starting with the French, and towards the Russians.

They launched a major operation in the center in December.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wrote in a recent report to the Security Council that with the intensification of operations by Malian soldiers supported by foreign elements, "civilians have been exposed to violent attacks and violations of human rights, which have led to the highest number of civilian victims recorded to date in Mali".

Civilians are subject to reprisals from jihadists who accuse them of siding with the enemy. In certain zones, more and more extended in the center, passed under the influence of the jihadists, the latter vigorously apply their social vision.

Civilians also often find themselves caught in the crossfire in clashes between rival armed groups, including those affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization, which is also rampant in Mali and the Sahel.

The elected official who regretted that there was nothing left of Diallassagou complained that the warnings given by the populations were heard too late.

“We have said everything but the arrangements have not been made. The authorities were notified at 15 p.m., 16 p.m., 17 p.m., but they arrived the next morning at 10 a.m., “he said without specifying the day.

The number of civilians killed in attacks attributed to extremist groups has almost doubled since 2020 in the central Sahel, says a coalition of West African NGOs in a report published Thursday.

A UN document released in March said nearly 600 civilians had been killed in Mali in 2021 in violence blamed mainly on jihadist groups, but also on self-defense militias and the armed forces.

The Editorial Board (with AFP)

Image credit: Creative Commons / Flickr

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