At least 53 soldiers and one civilian confirmed dead in Mali attack

Islamic State claims responsibility for strike in Menaka region of West African country

Senegalese soldiers on a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali in July. File photograph: Souleymane Ag Anara/AFP/ Getty Images

Senegalese soldiers on a UN peacekeeping mission in Mali in July. File photograph: Souleymane Ag Anara/AFP/ Getty Images

 

At least 53 soldiers and one civilian have been killed in an attack on an army post in northern Mali, the government said, in one of the deadliest strikes against the West African country’s military in recent memory.

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack via its Amaq news agency on Saturday, without providing evidence. The militant group has posted dozens of claims of responsibility for attacks in several countries since US special forces killed its previous leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi last weekend.

The authorities first reported the attack in Indelimane, Menaka region, on Friday, but gave a lower provisional death toll. “Heavily armed unidentified men attacked around noon. The attack started with shellfire . . . Then they retreated toward Niger,” government spokesman Yaya Sangare told the Reuters news agency on Saturday.

He added the death toll remained provisional as corpses were undergoing identification, and that the army was undertaking a combing operation on the ground with support from international forces, including French troops from the Barkhane operation and UN peacekeepers.

“The dispatched reinforcements found 54 bodies including one civilian, 10 survivors, and found considerable material damage,” Mr Sangare said on Twitter earlier on Saturday. France said one of its soldiers there had died after his vehicle hit an improvised explosive device, according to a statement by the French presidency. The attack follows jihadist raids in late September that underscored the increasing reach and sophistication of armed groups operating in the region.

Members of the Army Ranger Wing, the special forces arm of the Irish Defence Forces, are on a deployment to Mali – deemed to be the most dangerous UN mission in the world. Fourteen members are serving with the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission (Minusma) in the northwest African country.

The mission by the Army Ranger Wing was approved by the Dáil in June. Separately, 20 members of the Defence Forces are serving in Mali as part of an EU mission training in bomb disposal and the clearance of landmines.

From their stronghold in Mali, groups with al-Qaeda and Islamic State links have been able to fan out across the Sahel, destabilising parts of Niger and Burkina Faso. Thirty-eight Malian soldiers were killed on September 30th in co-ordinated attacks on two army bases in central Mali, which has slipped from government control despite the presence of the French army and other international forces. – Reuters