Four soldiers from Mali were killed when gunmen ambushed a convoy carrying materials for the country’s election, according to military officials.
The attackers ambushed the convoy on the road between Nampala and Coura in the central region of Segou before firing at the soldiers, AFP reported a military source as saying.
“It was a sophisticated attack. The terrorists launched an ambush and afterwards they fired at the convoy, which defended itself,” the source said, adding that eight attackers were killed in return fire.
A second military source said “two Malian army vehicles and their occupants are still not accounted for.”
The patrol was attempting to secure procedures relating to Mali’s general election, which on Sunday saw some voters prevented from participating by armed groups.
A defense ministry spokesperson said the convoy “was transporting some youths and election materials,” Reuters reported.
Sunday’s election was marked by violence as armed attackers succeeding in shutting more than 600 polling stations.
It was unclear what group was behind the ambush, but the security situation has been fragile in the lead-up to the election with multiple jihadist and other armed groups vying for control.
Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda took control of the desert in the north of Mali in early 2012, exploiting a Taureg separatist uprising. France began a military intervention the next year that evolved into the current Operation Barkhane deployment with a mandate for counter-terror operations across the Sahel region, and around 4,000 French troops are deployed.
Another 11,684 troops are deployed with the United Nations mission in Mali, Minusma.
On July 1, forces with Operation Barkhane were attacked on the road to Bourem in the Gao region.
In the center of the country, Minusma said last month it has recently documented an escalation of attacks allegedly carried out by armed Dozos hunters and militias, who are linked to the Dogon ethnic group, against Fulani herders.
“These attacks are said to be motivated by a desire to root out individuals linked to the violent extremist group Jama’at nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM),” a U.N. report said. JNIM is a fusion of three groups linked to al-Qaeda. Also known as the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the group has been behind several high profile attacks against domestic and foreign forces since forming last year.
JNIM claimed responsibility for a bomb and gun attack on the headquarters of the G5 Sahel Joint Force in Sevare in the Mopti region of Mali in June and four attacks on Malian and U.N. troops across the country in November that it claimed killed six soldiers.
With reporting from AFP