Suicide blast kills more than 40 in northern Mali military camp
The attack struck at the heart of still fragile efforts by the government and rival armed groups to work together to quell the violence that has plagued the restive desert north for years.
The bombers forced their way into the camp shortly before 9 a.m. (0900 GMT), running over several people before blowing up the vehicle just as 600 soldiers were assembling, said Radhia Achouri, a spokeswoman Mali’s U.N. peacekeeping force MINUSMA.
A Reuters reporter at the site soon after the blast saw dozens of bodies lying on the ground alongside the wounded as ambulances rushed to the camp and helicopters circled overhead.
“I’ve just left the hospital where there were bodies ripped to pieces and wounded piled up,” said Gao resident Kader Toure.
President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita declared three days of national mourning.
State media put the death toll at 47, including five suicide bombers, and army spokesman Diarran Kone said that 115 people were also wounded.
For a graphic of where the attack took place: tmsnrt.rs/2jnRR7P
The camp housed government soldiers and members of rival armed groups who were due soon to begin conducting joint patrols under a U.N.-brokered peace deal aimed at easing local tensions so the government could focus on fighting Islamist militants.
A French-led military intervention in 2013 drove back insurgent groups, some with links to al Qaeda, that had seized northern Mali a year earlier.
But Islamist militants still operate in the region and conduct frequent attacks.
“The significance of this attack is that it strikes at the very heart of the Algiers peace agreement,” said Sean Smith, a West Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, referring to the U.N.-brokered accord.
French interior minister Bruno Le Roux described the blast as a “highly symbolic attack” in an area visited only days ago by President Francois Hollande.
“This attack does fit into the idea that Islamists would attack anyone who works with the government,” a diplomat told Reuters.
Gao is a dusty town of 50,000 people on the banks of the Niger river. The U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali is the world’s most dangerous, and its offices in Gao were flattened by a truck bomb in December.
In addition to the 13,000-strong U.N. force, France also has troops in the region.
Before Wednesday’s blast, the worst militant attack on the former French colony was a November 2015 assault by jihadist gunmen on a Radisson hotel in the capital, Bamako, in which 20 people were killed. –Reuters