Al-Qaida’s affiliate in Mali claimed responsibility Saturday for an attack on the country’s main military base, which it said was a response to governmental collaboration with Russian mercenaries.
Friday’s raid on the Kati base 15 kilometers outside the capital Bamako killed at least one soldier and represented the first time in Mali’s decade-long insurgency that Islamist militants have hit a military camp so close to Bamako.
The raid, carried out using two car bombs, also wounded six people, while seven assailants were killed and eight arrested, Mali’s military said.
The media unit for al-Qaida’s local affiliate, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), said in a statement its Katiba Macina branch had carried out the attack, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist statements.
The Malian military had blamed Katiba Macina for the attack in a statement Friday.
The JNIM statement said a Malian fighter had detonated a car bomb at the base’s gate and a fighter from Burkina Faso detonated another inside the base, allowing additional fighters to enter the camp.
It justified the attack by citing the presence in Mali of mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner Group, which began supplying hundreds of fighters last year to support the Malian military and has since been accused by human rights groups and local residents of participating in massacres of civilians.
“We say to the Bamako government: if you have the right to hire mercenaries to kill the defenseless innocent people, then we have the right to destroy you and target you,” it said.
The Russian government has acknowledged Wagner personnel are in Mali, but the Malian government has described them as instructors from the Russian military rather than private security contractors.
Wagner has no public representation and has not commented on the accusations of human rights violations.
In a separate statement on Saturday, JNIM also claimed responsibility for attacks in five central and southern Mali towns on Thursday, which the Malian military said had killed one soldier and wounded 15.