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Al-Qaeda’s Sahel branch says virus weakening its foes

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Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadists have claimed responsibility for killing dozens of soldiers in Mali and suggested coronavirus was weakening foreign forces in the Sahel.

In a statement verified on Monday by the jihadist-surveillance group SITE Intelligence, the jihadists said they attacked a military base in the northern town of Bamba on April 6.

Officials at the time told AFP that some 25 Malian soldiers had died in the raid, but the statement by the GSIM — the Group to Support Islam and Muslims — said about 30 soldiers had been killed.

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AFP was unable to independently confirm the figures.

GSIM also suggested that the coronavirus sweeping Europe could weaken the resolve of its enemies.

“The pandemic also struck the ranks of the invading forces in Mali. This bears a sign of the near disintegration of this satanic alliance, Allah willing,” the statement said.

Mali has been struggling to contain a jihadist revolt that first broke out in the north in 2012, and which has since spread to the centre of the country and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Thousands of Malian soldiers and civilians have died in the conflict to date, despite the presence of thousands of French and United Nations troops in the country.

France has some 5,100 soldiers deployed across the Sahel. The UN mission in Mali, called MINUSMA, has around 13,000 members.

GSIM, an al-Qaeda-linked jihadist alliance active in several Sahel states, last month said that it was willing to negotiate with the government in Bamako in order to de-escalate Mali’s spiralling conflict.

It demanded an end to the “crusader French occupation” and the departure of other international troops as a precondition to talks, however.

Mali has recorded 123 coronavirus cases to date, including 10 fatalities.

There are concerns that country — where large swathes of land lie outside state control — is ill-equipped to tackle a large outbreak.


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