Over 130 civilians killed by suspected terrorists in central Mali

    The massacre, the latest in an ongoing series of killings across the Sahel, has been blamed on al-Qaeda-affiliated Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa's Katiba Macina. Three days of national mourning have been declared

    AFP Published Tuesday, June 21, 2022 at 01:03

    This is one of the worst massacres known to Mali. More than 130 civilians were killed in the center of the country in attacks attributed to jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda. Local elected officials have reported scenes of systematic massacres perpetrated by armed men in Diallassagou and in two surrounding localities in the circle of Bankass in the center of the country, one of the main centers of violence which has bloodied the Sahel for years.

    "We lost relatives, big brothers, uncles, equipment (was) destroyed, animals taken away, clothes, everything," said a local elected official speaking in Bamako on condition of anonymity for security reasons. “There is nothing left of Diallassagou. Diallassagou, the richest town in the circle of Bankass...", he moaned.

    The elected official who regretted that there was nothing left of Diallassagou complained that the warnings given by the populations were heard too late. “We have said everything but the arrangements have not been made. The authorities were notified at 3:00 p.m., 4:00 p.m., 5:00 p.m., but they arrived the next morning at 10:00 a.m., “he said without specifying the day.

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    Three days of national mourning

    The government has reported 132 deaths which it blamed on Al-Qaeda-affiliated Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa's Katiba Macina. Various interlocutors of AFP indicated that we continued to count the dead on Monday. Nouhoum Togo, president of a party based in Bankass, the main locality in the sector, speaks of an even higher number of victims.

    The leader of the junta in power since August 2020, Colonel Assimi Goïta, has declared three days of national mourning.

    Released Monday afternoon from silence as alarming information proliferated since the weekend on social networks, the government dates the events of the night from Saturday to Sunday. Others date them back to Friday.

    Nouhoum Togo told AFP that the area had been the scene two weeks ago of army operations which had resulted in clashes with jihadists. The latter would have returned to several dozen on motorcycles, Friday according to him, to take revenge against the populations, he said. “They came and said to people, 'you are not Muslims' in the Fulani language. So they took the men away, a hundred people left with them. Two kilometers away, they systematically shot people,” he said. "Even today, we continued to pick up the bodies in the surrounding towns of Diallassagou."

    Civilians, main victims of reprisals

    Since the appearance in 2015 of the Katiba Macina in central Mali, the region has been subjected to jihadist abuses, the actions of proclaimed self-defense militias and inter-community reprisals. Much of the area is beyond the control of the central state. On March 23, 2019, more than 160 Fulani civilians were massacred in the village of Ogossagou. But it is all of Mali that has been plunged into a deep security, political and humanitarian crisis since the outbreak of independence and jihadist insurgencies in 2012 in the north.

    The soldiers who took power by force in August 2020 after months of popular protest directed in particular against the inability of the civilian government to stop the deadly spiral have made the restoration of security their priority. They turned away from Mali's former military allies, starting with the French, and towards the Russians. They launched a major operation in the center in December.

    UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres wrote in a recent report to the Security Council that with the intensification of operations by Malian soldiers supported by foreign elements "civilians have been exposed to violent attacks and increasing violations of human rights, which caused the highest number of civilian victims recorded to date in Mali".

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    Civilians are subject to reprisals from jihadists who accuse them of siding with the enemy. In certain zones, more and more extended in the center, passed under the influence of the jihadists, the latter vigorously apply their social vision. Civilians also often find themselves caught in the crossfire in clashes between rival armed groups, including those affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State organization, which is also rampant in Mali and the Sahel. The number of civilians killed in attacks attributed to extremist groups has almost doubled since 2020 in the central Sahel, says a coalition of West African NGOs in a report published Thursday.

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    Evarist Chahali

    Evarist Chahali

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