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MALI

French national among four UN victims of al Qaeda attacks in Mali

Souleymane Ag Anara, AFP (Archive) | The UN mission in Mali has been frequently targeted over the past three years.
3 min

A French national was among the four members of the UN's Mali mission killed in Tuesday's attacks around the northern city of Gao, French diplomatic sources revealed Wednesday. The attacks were claimed by al Qaeda’s North African branch.

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Four foreign nationals, including a French citizen and a Chinese peacekeeper working for the UN's Mali mission, were killed in two attacks Tuesday around the northern Malian city of Gao, according to French and Chinese officials.

The French national's identity has not been revealed until the victim's family has been informed, French diplomatic sources told FRANCE 24.

One peacekeeper was killed and three seriously wounded by rockets or mortars fired at the UN peacekeeping mission -- known as MINUSMA -- in Gao late on Tuesday. About 10 civilians were also injured in the attack, MINUSMA said.

In a later assault carried out with light arms on the UN antimining operation (UNMAS) in a different neighbourhood of Gao, two private Malian security guards and an international expert were killed, MINUSMA said.

It was "the first time a Chinese UN peacekeeper has been killed in the north", an African military source told AFP.

Al Qaeda's North African affiliate, AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) claimed responsibility for Tuesday's attacks, the US monitoring SITE said Wednesday.

The last month alone has seen three attacks on MINUSMA, fuelling concern over its future, with 65 people killed in under three years. It is the deadliest active deployment for UN peacekeepers.

Five Togolese peacekeepers were killed in an ambush by unidentified gunmen in central Mali on May 29, and five Chadians died on May 19 when their vehicle hit a landmine and then came under fire by Islamist group Ansar Dine.

'Trashing the enemy'

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying confirmed the dead peacekeeper was from China, and killed in what she called a "terrorist attack".

"This is a grave and outrageous crime, China strongly condemns it, we call for the UN and Mali to carry out a thorough investigation and bring the perpetrators to justice," she told a press conference on Wednesday in Beijing.

In a statement picked up by SITE, AQIM said fighters from its "al-Murabitoun battalion engaged in a clash with 'crusader occupation forces'," referring to the UN mission in Mali.

The jihadists called it an "epic battle" and said they were "thrashing" the enemy.

Al-Murabitoun, led by one-eyed Algerian militant Mokhtar Belmokhtar, has claimed responsibility for several spectacular and bloody attacks in sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN deployed helicopters to monitor the area and a rapid reaction force was patrolling Gao, MINUSMA said in its statement.

Mission chief Mahamat Saleh Annadif said he was "disgusted by these vicious, cowardly and totally unacceptable attacks", calling on the Malian government to track down the attackers and bring them to justice.

"These crimes can no longer be tolerated," he added.

Mali's former colonial ruler France also condemned the attack and said it was "at the side of the Malian authorities and MINUSMA in their efforts to fight terrorism and usher in stability in Mali".

France's Barkhane force has 3,500 soldiers deployed across five Sahel countries, including Mali.

Mali's north has seen repeated violence since it fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to al Qaeda in 2012.

The Islamists were largely ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013, but they have since carried out sporadic attacks on security forces from desert hideouts.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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