Written by Staff Writer, CNN
Local authorities say they’ve confirmed that a massacre at a central Mali market that left 31 people dead and 58 injured is the work of militants.
The attacks took place Sunday at the busy Kelaba market in Timbuktu as Malian residents celebrated the New Year.
Ahmad Belaid, an official with the administrative authorities of Timbuktu, said that “four assailants” targeted the market, using guns and explosives. One militant killed his victims with a knife and another drove a car bomb, he said.
Security forces in Timbuktu have confirmed that militants were behind the attacks.
“Two out of the four attackers were neutralized immediately by security forces who are carrying out an investigation,” El Hadj Clervoisod, the media office of the mayor of Timbuktu, said.
Lamine Ag Sidibo, the secretary of security of Timbuktu, told French news agency AFP that one of the attackers died from his wounds at the hospital. Authorities believe two more remain at large.
No group immediately claimed responsibility for the attack, but Malian security sources said it is suspected to be the work of al Qaeda-linked militants.
Civilians at Kelaba
Saturday night’s massacre was the latest in a series of attacks in Mali, which has become the epicenter of jihadist violence in West Africa. The unrest has caused Mali to lose nearly 20 percent of its GDP due to insecurity, according to estimates by the United Nations.
“January is of course not an ordinary month,” a spokesman for the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, Youssouf Ag Gaikhilou, told Reuters Tuesday.
“It’s a month of all jihad, when the one who decides something is the one who leads it.”
In November, Al-Qaeda affiliate AQIM claimed responsibility for a suicide attack that targeted a heavily fortified military camp in Mali’s northern Gao region, killing 17 members of the Malian military.
According to CNN, the jihadists have increased their presence across the entire North of Mali and, according to a 2017 French counterterror study, have opened more than 40 training camps.
Gao and the Kidal region are no longer contested areas by the Malian government, but extremist gunmen remain active in these regions. In 2014, Islamist extremist groups led by MUJAO, as well as the so-called Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, seized several northern towns, including Gao and Kidal.
The Malian military, supported by French troops, were able to retake control of the cities in early 2015. But the extremists returned to northern Mali late in 2016, laying siege to Timbuktu, which had been one of the more stable parts of the country. The extremists’ assault in January 2017 was at the center of the International Criminal Court’s ongoing investigation into abuses committed by the Malian military.
However, despite the attacks, the population in the north of Mali is generally far more peaceful than in the south. The UN has said the jihadists have no command or control over the population in northern Mali, according to the World Bank.