NOUAKCHOTT, Mauritania (AFP) – An al-Qaeda affiliate in Mali on Wednesday claimed responsibility for four attacks on Malian and United Nations troops that it said killed six soldiers.
Jamaa Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) said in statements that it had attacked a police post in Segou on Sunday, capturing weapons and a motorcycle.
On Monday, “fighters ambushed Malian and MINUSMA (UN mission in Mali) forces near the city of Konna in Mopti, killing six soldiers,” according to a report carried by the U.S. monitoring group SITE.
“Other fighters bombed a Malian convoy tasked with securing an area near Niafunke in Timbuktu in preparation for a visit by a local leader,” it said.
Prime Minister Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga cancelled a planned visit on Monday to the central town after a vehicle sent to protect his team hit a landmine.
Also on Monday, police and administrative officials said 10 people, including nine civilians, had died in attacks in northern and central Mali.
They included five civilian passengers aboard a bus blown up by a mine near Ansongo – an incident that was not claimed in the JNIM statements.
JNIM was formed in March as a merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun and the Saharan branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Al-Qaeda later issued a statement approving the group and accepting its leaders’ baya to Ayman al-Zawahiri.
In a statement released on Tuesday, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, the head of MINUSMA, lashed the jihadist assailants as “drugged fanatics” and “outlaws”.
He called on Malians to become “collectively aware” of “cowards (who) mix with the peaceful population, discretely melt into the background before carrying out their plans.”
“The people have to denounce their torturers and to flush them out into the open with the help and support of the national and international forces.”
Islamist extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert north of Mali in early 2012 at the expense of Tuareg rebels.
They were chased out of Sahara towns by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013.
In mid-2015, a peace accord was signed with Tuareg leaders aimed at isolating the jihadists.
France pledges to increase aid to Sahel by one third
France said Wednesday it will increase its development aid to the troubled Sahel by more than a third, linking the extra funds to the fight against jihadist groups in the vast African region.
The five nations in the sprawling area south of the Sahara – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – pooled their military resources to create the G5 Sahel force, which began operations on November 1.
The fledgling group is tasked with combatting Islamist terrorism after thousands of civilians have died in fighting, many of them in suicide bombings, and tens of thousands of people have fled their homes.
On Tuesday, a report on the first mission of the G5 Sahel force said that it experienced “logistical problems” but they are not “insurmountable.”.
France, the former colonial power in the Sahel, is the scheme’s biggest political backer and provided a hefty dose of support to help the new 5,000-troop multinational force get going.
The new French special envoy for the Sahel, Jean-Marc Chataigner, announced further support for the region at a press conference in Mauritania’s capital Nouakchott on Wednesday.
“Development and security must go together in the Sahel: one cannot exist without the other,” Chataigner said, according to remarks tweeted by the French Embassy in Mauritania.
“Development aid in this region is currently in the order of €600 million ($695 million) and it will increase, according to our estimates, by more than €200 million,” he said.
The former director general of the Research Institute for Development, who was appointed on August 31, is touring the region, where France has a 4,000-man anti-terrorist force, called Barkhane.