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Mali opens terror probe after 17 soldiers killed


Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Ibrahim Boubacar Keita

Mali announced Thursday it had opened an investigation into the deaths of 17 soldiers killed in an attack on their base in the centre of the country, as separate violence flared in the north.

Two armed groups claimed to have carried out Tuesday’s raid on a military camp in Nampala, central Mali, which also left dozens wounded.

A day after declaring a 10-day state of emergency, President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita paid his final respects to the dead in the presence of bereaved families in Segou, the capital of the region where the attack happened.

A previous state of emergency in place since April had only been lifted the week before.

“We are mourning today in Segou, crying for our children fallen in battle. Some were 20 years old, others 40. Not every life has dignity. Theirs did,” Keita said at a military camp.

Keita said he had moved “heaven and earth” in attempts to persuade allies to provide air support to the struggling Malian forces. “We need true solidarity,” he added.

Both France and the United Nations have stationed troops in Mali in an attempt to curb the country’s prolonged insecurity.

The president was also due to visit some of the 35 wounded troops still receiving care.

Earlier Thursday the justice ministry said prosecutors had opened a terrorism probe into the Nampala attack and called on Malians to “inform the judicial authorities of anything that can help to advance our inquiries.”

– ‘Heavy weapon fire’ –

Malian jihadist organisation Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s attack, along with the recently-founded National Alliance for the Protection of Peul Identity and Restoration of Justice (ANSIPRJ).

The military camp massacre was just the latest in a series of assaults on security forces in Mali, and was condemned as a “coordinated terrorist attack” by the government.

Meanwhile, in a show of Mali’s growing instability, clashes were reported in the restive northern city of Kidal between pro-government and former rebel groups both based there since February.

An unnamed local official described “violent street battles” between the heavily armed factions, with residents barricaded in their homes.

“All civilians are indoors. Heavy weapons are firing all over the place, especially in centre of town,” said the official.

Another official said the fighting stemmed from a struggle between rival Tuareg clans over control of the town.

There was no immediate information about casualties.

Mali has seen repeated violence since it fell under the control of Tuareg-led rebels who allied with jihadist groups linked to Al-Qaeda in 2012, including Ansar Dine.

Attacks are now becoming more frequent in the country’s centre, close to its borders with Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger, both from criminal and jihadist elements.

Although Islamists were largely ousted by an ongoing French-led military operation launched in January 2013, sporadic attacks from desert hideouts are common.

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