BAMAKO – Islamist militants raided the headquarters of an African military taskforce in central Mali on Friday, opening fire with rockets and guns and attempting to infiltrate the base, the defence ministry said.
At least six people were killed in the attack and the death toll could rise further, a Mali security source said.
The attack was aimed at a compound in Sevare, in central Mali, used by the G5 Sahel, a mission created last year to root out jihadist violence in West Africa’s semi-arid Sahel region, ministry spokesman Boubacar Diallo told Reuters.
“The attackers fired rockets at the headquarters and some of them infiltrated the compound. There was an exchange of fire,” Diallo said.
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The defence ministry said a car with explosives was also used in the attack. Pictures from the seen by Reuters, showed the twisted charred remains of a vehicle, a crater, and surrounding walls hit by projectiles.
A U.N. source in Sevare, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the compound was also hit by a car bomb but that gunfire had died down by mid-afternoon.
A spokesman for the G5 force, which is made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania, confirmed the attack but did not have further details.
Violence by Islamist militants has proliferated in the sparsely-populated Sahel in recent years, with groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State using central and northern Mali as a launchpad for attacks across the region.
Western powers, including France and the United States, have provided significant funding to the G5 in a bid to beat back the jihadists. But the force has been slow to get off the ground, hobbled by delays disbursing the money and coordinating among the five countries.
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The French defence ministry said in a report on Thursday that around 15 assailants were killed when a detachment of its forces, alongside Malian commandos, clashed with a group of around 20 militants on June 22.
It said the clash, which required helicopter support, led to the seizure or destruction of many materials including two pickups and six motorcycles, munitions and heavy and light weapons.
A separate U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, declined to comment on the attack on the G5 counpound.