Three days of mourning have been declared as authorities continue to assess the death toll in Mali’s latest attacks.
Armed groups have attacked a passenger boat and military camp in Mali, killing at least 49 civilians and 15 soldiers, according to the country’s armed forces. Approximately 50 assailants were also killed in the attack.
“On September 7, 2023, at around 11am [11:00 GMT], armed terrorist groups with fatal designs attacked a boat from COMANAV [a ferry operator] between Abakoira and Zorghoi, in the territory of Rarhous,” Mali’s military said in a statement on social media, referencing towns in the central part of the country.
The boat had been travelling on the Niger River. COMANAV said in a separate statement that “at least three rockets” had targetted the vessel, aiming at its engines.
When the vessel became stranded in the waterway, unable to move, army officials led an evacuation effort to help passengers to shore, a COMANAV official told the AFP news agency. The river is a crucial navigation route for the region, which has relatively little road infrastructure.
A separate attack targeted an army installation further east in the Bourem Circle, part of the Gao region.
With Thursday’s death toll yet to be finalised and many more injured in the attacks, Mali’s interim government declared three days of national mourning. Since its 2021 coup d’etat, Mali has been led on an interim basis by Colonel Assimi Goita.
A group affiliated with al-Qaeda has claimed credit for both attacks, according to the AFP.
The Sahel region, of which Mali forms a part, has experienced an uptick in violence over the last decade, including from rival groups affiliated with al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) group.
The United Nations has raised alarm about the situation, saying the “devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets” has already resulted in “alarming” humanitarian consequences.
Since around August 13, a local affiliate of al-Qaeda, known as the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims or JMIN, has organised a blockade around the historic Malian city of Timbuktu, which is situated close to the Niger River, east of where Thursday’s attacks took place.
That blockade has resulted in many of Timbuktu’s 35,000 residents suffering from food insecurity and escalating prices for basic necessities. Humanitarian aid has also been stalled.
A UN panel also noted in August that ISIL fighters had nearly doubled their territory within the last year, with continued confrontation between the rival groups expected.
The instability in Mali came largely in the wake of a 2012 conflict that saw rebels in the north push for independence. Then a military coup d’etat later that year toppled the democratically elected government.
The country has since experienced two more coups: one in 2020 and the most recent in 2021.
A peace deal in 2015 attempted to quell the rebellion in the north, but the tumult in the government has rendered the deal fragile, allowing for ongoing clashes between various armed groups.