BAMAKO: Suspected militants killed at least nine United Nations peacekeepers from Niger on Friday in northeastern Mali, in the deadliest ever attack on the mission, military sources said.
MINUSMA did not immediately hold any armed group responsible, but a Nigerien officer from the mission told AFP the attack had been carried out by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an al-Qaeda-linked militia behind numerous attacks in recent years.
“This morning, a convoy of MINUSMA peacekeepers from the Nigerien contingent was the target of a direct attack while travelling to Indelimane, in the Menaka-Asongo corridor.
A provisional toll indicated nine deaths,” a statement from the UN mission said.
“This is to date the deadliest attack against the UN mission in Mali,” the statement said, adding that aircraft had been deployed to secure the area.
Arnauld Akodjenou, the deputy head of the mission, said he was “horrified” by the “cowardly” attack. “Once again, lives have now been lost in the name of peace in Mali. These crimes must not go unpunished,” he said in the statement.
“This violence must stop immediately and MINUSMA again challenges all those involved in finding solutions for sustainable peace to take responsibility for a rapid resolution of the crisis that has lasted too long.”
The Nigerien MINUSMA source said MUJAO had formed an alliance with militants from the Fulani ethnic group in the Gao region where the attack took place.
“The terrorists had threatened to carry out attacks, attacks in the run-up to the feast of Tabaski. They´ve just carried them out,” added a Malian military source, using the west African name for the Islamic festival of Eid al-Adha taking place on Sunday.