Suspected jihadists massacred more than 130 civilians over the weekend in neighbouring central Mali towns, the latest mass killings in the Sahel region. Local officials reported scenes of systematic killings by armed men in Diallassagou and two surrounding towns in the Bankass circle, a longtime hotbed of Sahelian violence.
"They have also been burning huts, houses, and stealing cattle -- it's really a free-for-all," said a local official who for security reasons spoke on condition of anonymity.
The national authorities broke their silence on Monday afternoon after alarming reports proliferated on social networks over the weekend. The government blamed the attack on the Fulani preacher Amadou Kouffa's organisation, the Macina Katiba.
Central Mali has been plagued by violence since the Al Qaeda-affiliated organisation emerged in 2015. 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 group.
The head of the junta, Colonel Assimi Goïta, declared three days of mourning. The political class in Bamako unanimously expressed its compassion while rallying once again around the armed forces.
However, the Cadre d'échange, a grouping of a dozen parties, a rare critical voice, asked Colonel Goïta to go to the scene and appealed "to the responsibility of the authorities to take the necessary measures so that such tragedies do not happen again.
This latest massacre comes at the end of a tragic month which saw jihadist terrorist groups ramp up their attacks. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) fought Malian soldiers and pro-government armed groups in Anderamboukane near Mali’s border with Niger to reputedly slaughtering 86 civilians in northern Burkina Faso.
Some 20 civilians were killed on Saturday in the northern region of Gao. Last Wednesday, an armed group reported the death of 22 people in the Menaka region.
The strategic landscape has changed since 2021, with France and its allies no longer at the forefront of the fight in Mali. Relations between Bamako and Paris soured after the Malian junta refused to set an early date for restoring civilian rule and brought in “military instructors” that France and its allies said were mercenaries from the pro-Kremlin Wagner group.
The UN has expressed alarm in Security Council documents at the deteriorating security situation in central Mali, as well as in the north and in the so-called three-border zone on the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger.
The number of civilians killed in attacks attributed to extremist groups has almost doubled since 2020 in the central Sahel, a coalition of West African NGOs said in a report released on Thursday.
A UN document published in March said nearly 600 civilians had been killed in Mali in 2021 in violence blamed mainly on jihadist groups, but also on self-defence militias and armed forces.