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French army denies IS claim for deadly Mali crash that killed 13 soldiers

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A handout picture taken and released on November 27, 2019 by the SIRPA, the French army press service shows the coffins of the 13 French soldiers who died when two French military helicopters collided in Mali, two days ago displayed prior to a tribute ceremony, on November 27, 2019 in Gao. – The crash occurred late Monday during an operation against jihadists in the Liptako region, near the borders with Burkina Faso and Niger. It was the heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades (Photo by James WILLIAM / SIRPA / AFP) /

An ambush by Islamic State jihadists did not cause a collision between two French army helicopters which left 13 soldiers dead in Mali, France’s military chief of staff said Friday.

The Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP) claimed responsibility for Monday’s accident, the heaviest single loss for the French army in nearly four decades.

“It’s totally false,” General Francois Lecointre told Radio France International.

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“The truth is that there was a collision during a very complex combat operation,” he said.

“The French army is telling the truth: we owe it to our soldiers and to the families of our dead colleagues.”

ISWAP said its fighters ambushed a French convoy near Indelimane village, in the Menaka area, and opened fire on one of the helicopters that arrived in support.

“After staggering in flight, it then collided with another helicopter, killing 13 Crusaders,” said an ISWAP statement carried on the SITE intelligence group website.

The general said there was no attack by the jihadists that the army was pursuing near the borders with Burkina Faso and Niger.

“There was no withdrawal of an aircraft in the face of fire from the jihadists,” he added.

The general said the helicopter black boxes were being analysed for details of exactly what happened.

The accident brought to 41 the number of French troops killed in the Sahel region since Paris intervened against jihadists in northern Mali in 2013.

Since then, armed groups affiliated with IS, Al-Qaeda and others have advanced into southern Mali as well as neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

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