4 civilians killed, soldiers wounded in Mali attack on French troops
French soldiers on patrol in troubled northern Mali were targeted in a "terror" attack on Sunday in which four civilians were killed and dozens wounded, including four soldiers, Malian and French officials said.
Citing hospital sources, Malian authorities said the attack in Gao left four civilians dead and 23 others injured in an apparent car bombing.
In Paris late Sunday the French army chief told AFP that four soldiers with the Barkhane force in Mali were wounded in the attack and that there were at least two civilians dead.
"Terrorism has again hit Mali in a cowardly way," the French army minister Florence Parly said in a tweet.
According to a Western military source, "some French soldiers with the Barkhane force leaving the city fell into an ambush set up by terrorists on the road that leads toward Bourem."
Gao resident Fatouma Wangara said the French patrol was deliberately targeted by a suicide car bomb.
"An armoured vehicle blocked the way and the car blew up," she said.
Meanwhile in a separate incident on Sunday, a vehicle of the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), an armed group of former Touareg rebels which often operates alongside French and Malian forces in Mali's north, hit a landmine in Talataye village in the Gao region.
That blast killed four people and injured three, the group said in a statement.
The attacks, coming in the wake of two others on Friday and Saturday, highlighted the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to hold elections on July 29.
Sunday's attacks occurred as an African Union summit opened in neighbouring Mauritania, with security crises on the continent, including unrest in the vast Sahel region, high on the agenda.
On Friday, a suicide bombing hit the Mali headquarters of the five-nation force known as G5 Sahel, adding to concerns about how it can tackle the jihadist groups roaming the region.
- 'Message sent by terrorists' -
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose country is part of the G5 and is hosting the two-day African Union summit, warned that Friday's attack on the Sahel force HQ had exposed regional security failings.
He said the blast "hit the heart" of the region's security and lashed out at a lack of international help, saying the doors of the United Nations were "closed".
"It was a message sent by the terrorists at this precise moment when we are getting organised to stabilise and secure our region," Aziz told France 24 television.
"If the headquarters was attacked, it is because there are so many failings we need to fix if we want to bring stability to the Sahel."
The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claimed Friday's bombing in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar.
And on Saturday, four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the central Mopti region.
- Funding problems -
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from five nations -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- but has faced funding problems and accusations of human rights abuses.
French President Emmanuel Macron will meet G5 leaders in Nouakchott on Monday to focus on progress made by the force.
G5 operates alongside France's 4,000 troops in the troubled "tri-border" area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN's 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Mali votes on July 29 in a presidential election in which incumbent President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita will face more than a dozen challengers.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in banned opposition protests.
Mali's unrest stems from a 2012 ethnic Tuareg separatist uprising, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north.
The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.
The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.
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