Headquarters of G5 Sahel anti-terror force attacked in central Mali
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A car packed with explosives detonated at the headquarters of a new, five-nation West African counterterror force in Mali, setting off a gun battle that killed two soldiers, a civilian and two attackers, officials said Friday.
The al Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in Africa's Sahel region, claimed the attack in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar.
Force commander Gen. Didier Dacko confirmed Friday’s attack by phone from Niger, saying it began with the car attack. Residents said the blast shook the community of Sevare, near the central city of Mopti.
In addition to the deaths, two other attackers were captured, G5 Sahel spokesman Abdoul Salam Diagana told the AP. Four soldiers, three suspected attackers and a civilian were wounded, said Dr. Djibril Kassogue with the Sevare Hospital. “The lives of those injured are not in danger,” he said.
The chairman of the G5 Sahel, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, confirmed the death toll of three, including two military and one civilian, along with the eight injured.
In a statement from the G5 Force, Issoufou condemned “this cowardly act by criminal organisations whose aim is to destabilise one of the essential instruments for the stability of our subregion, in this case the Joint Force of the G5 Sahel.”
He lauded the effective response of soldiers, and expressed solidarity with the families of the victims.
In the statement, he also reaffirmed “the determination of the G5 Sahel member countries to fight the terrorist forces with firmness in order to restore the usual tranquility and serenity in which the people of the Sahel live".
Bram Posthumus, a journalist based in Bamako, told FRANCE 24 that the attack appeared to have been carefully planned.
“It was a car bomb followed by gun fire, so it was a multi-layered attack against these headquarters. This is not the first time this happens, it has happened before: In April in Timbuktu there was a similar attack against the MINUSMA camp over there, so there seems to be a trend towards more sophisticated, multi-pronged, multi-led attacks by these [jihadist] groups.”
This is the first time the G5 Sahel headquarters has been targeted. The assault comes shortly before French President Emmanuel Macron and African leaders meet at an African Union summit starting Sunday in Mauritania, with the regional extremist threat on the agenda.
The 5,000-strong G5 Sahel force launched last year and includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania. It has received millions of dollars in backing from the United States, European Union, Saudi Arabia and others.
The new force joins multiple counterterror efforts in the region including France’s largest overseas military operation, Barkhane.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)