A Malian army camp was targeted by a suicide attack in Gao on Friday, the day after a double attack blamed on jihadists which killed at least 64 civilians and soldiers in the north, where tension is growing day by day.
The army spoke in a brief message on social media of a “complex” attack in the airport area, meaning it involved different means. She did not provide an assessment, merely saying that “response and assessment (were) in progress”.
Very few details are available. An airport employee contacted by AFP reported an attack carried out using two vehicle bombs, accompanied by shooting. The airport was closed, he said.
This attack comes against a backdrop of growing pressure from armed groups on the state in the north in recent weeks, raising fears of an eruption of violence.
At least 64 people, including 49 civilians and 15 soldiers, were killed Thursday between Gao and Timbuktu.
The two separate attacks attributed to jihadists targeted the boat Timbuktu on the Niger River and an army position in Bamba, in the Gao region, according to a government statement which did not specify how many people died respectively on the ship and in the military base.
The Bamba attack was claimed by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM or Jnim according to the Arabic acronym), a jihadist alliance affiliated with Al-Qaeda, on the Al-Zallaqa propaganda platform, according to SITE, an American NGO specializing in monitoring radical groups.
The army’s response made it possible to “neutralize around fifty terrorists”, the government said. Authorities have declared three days of national mourning starting Friday.
The Timbuktu, a boat of the Malian navigation company (Comanav, public), was targeted by at least three rockets in the Gourma-Rharous sector, between Timbuktu and Gao, according to the company which, with a few vessels, provides an important link on several hundreds of kilometers from Koulikoro, near Bamako, to Gao, passing through the major towns on the river.
Several passengers jumped into the water as soon as the first shots were fired, said a Comanav official.
The Timbuktu can carry around 300 passengers, Company agents said on condition of anonymity without commenting on the number of people actually on board.
Soldiers were on board as an escort amid the security threat in the region, a military official said on condition of anonymity.
A boat had already been attacked with rockets on September 1 in the Mopti region, further south, killing one, a 12-year-old child, and injuring two. The river link was used by different users, traders or families, and seemed safer to many than the road, said a Comanav agent.
The GSIM announced, at the beginning of August, to impose a blockade on Timbuktu, in a context of ongoing security reconfiguration around “the city of 333 saints” listed as a World Heritage Site.
The UN mission (MINUSMA), pushed from Mali by the ruling junta, has just left two camps near Timbuktu, Ber and Goundam, transferred to the Malian authorities. This takeover by the Malian state gave rise to battles with jihadists but also clashes with ex-Tuareg rebels.
Timbuktu, with its several tens of thousands of inhabitants on the borders of the Sahara, is one of the large northern cities that fell into the hands of Tuareg rebels, then Salafists after the outbreak of the insurrection in 2012. French forces and Malians took over the city in 2013.
Tuareg-dominated groups signed a peace deal with the Malian state in 2015 while jihadists continued hostilities. The violence has spread to the center and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, killing thousands. The military has taken power by force in turn in the three countries since 2020, citing the security crisis.
Recent tensions in northern Mali raise fears for the survival of the 2015 agreement, and fears of a resumption of hostilities.
The Malian military pushed out the French anti-jihadist force in 2022 and the UN mission in 2023 and turned militarily and politically towards Russia. They have made the restoration of sovereignty one of their mantras. But vast areas continue to escape their control and various experts believe that the security situation has further deteriorated under their leadership.