On January 3rd, an unidentified helicopter opened fire on a civilian wedding in Mali, killing at least 20 people.
The helicopter, flying at low altitude, opened fire on what was a wedding party in a remote desert region in central Mali, according to health workers and locals speaking to the Reuters, AFP, and AP news agencies.
The helicopter appeared to be in pursuit of jihadist fighters on motor bikes near the villages of Bounti and Kikara, but ended up killing more than 20 people, including children.
It was not immediately clear who carried out the attacks but the reports emerged as French military sources said its forces in the country had carried out an airstrike in the area on January 3rd that killed “dozens of fighters” from Islamist groups.
It denied involvement in the wedding massacre, saying that its targets had been first identified by a drone.
“Reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made”, colonel Frederic Barbry, a French military spokesman said.
“There can’t be any doubts or ambiguity, there was no wedding,” a French military source also told AFP.
“This was a strike that was carried out after a particularly strict, multi-party process on a fully-identified armed terrorist group, after collating information, intentions, posture, in a studied area,” the source said.
A man wounded in the strike told The Associated Press that the extremists had approached a group of civilians who were celebrating a wedding and demanded that the men in attendance separate from the women.
“We were in the process of carrying out the orders when I heard the sound of an airplane and immediately a strike from above. Afterward, I didn’t see anything because I was unconscious,” the man said from a health centre in Douentza, speaking anonymously.
Hamadoun Dicko, leader of one of the largest ethnic Peuhl organizations in Mali, said witnesses described two air raids on Jan. 3 in the village.
“There were at least 20 dead and more than 27 missing. I have personally lost two friends,” Dicko, who is president of the Tabital Pulaaku Youth Association, said.
Two French soldiers were also killed by a roadside bomb in the Menaka region in eastern Mali while on a reconnaissance mission earlier on January 2nd.
A jihadist group, Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, a branch of Al Qaeda, later claimed responsibility for the attack, according to the Site Intelligence Group, a US private-intelligence company.
Separately, also in the terrorist-infested Sahel, approximately 100 people were killed by suspected militants attacking two villages in western Niger, the local mayor said.
The attacks on the villages of Tchoma Bangou and Zaroumadareye on January 2nd were waged by “terrorists who came riding about a hundred motorcycles”, said Almou Hassane, the mayor of the Tondikiwindi commune that administers both villages.
“There were up to 70 dead in Tchoma Bangou and 30 dead in Zaroumadareye,” he told AFP, adding he had just returned from the scene of the attacks.
In December 2020, 34 villagers were massacred in the southeastern region of Diffa, on the Nigerian border, the day before municipal and regional elections that had been repeatedly delayed because of poor security.
France has an operation force in the Sahel, but its efforts have, so far, proved ineffective in curbing any terrorist activity, it also continues losing small numbers of personnel occasionally due to attacks or IEDs.
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