An attack on a military patrol in northern Mali killed four civilians and wounded 31, including four French soldiers, Mali’s government and the French army said.
The ambush, which involved a car bomb explosion followed by gunfire, took place two days after Islamist militants killed at least six people during a raid on a military headquarters in central Mali, where French troops are helping combat jihadists.
The deteriorating security situation a month ahead of a presidential election points to the difficulty international partners have restoring peace in Mali, now a launch pad for attacks by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State across West Africa.
Photos posted on social media showed black smoke billowing from an armoured vehicle surrounded by debris on a sandy road.
“From hospital sources, the provisional record after the suicide attack against a Barkhane patrol in Gao was four civilians dead and 31 seriously injured,” Mali’s Security Ministry said on Twitter.
Barkhane is the near 4,000-strong French force stationed in its former colonies across the Sahel region.
French army spokesman Patrik Steiger said four French Barkhane soldiers were wounded in the explosion, near three French vehicles. Mali’s Security Ministry previously said eight French soldiers were wounded.
A spokesman for Mali’s Defence Ministry, Boubacar Diallo, said a car drove into a joint Barkhane-Malian army patrol.
No one claimed responsibility for the attack. Violence by Islamist militants spread across the sparsely populated Sahel in recent years, slowly taking back control lost when French forces beat back an uprising by Tuareg rebels and Islamists in 2013.
Western powers provided funding to a regional force of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania combating jihadists. But the so-called G5 force has been hobbled by delays disbursing the money and poor co-ordination between the five countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who last year complained G5 was taking too long to set up, is due in Mauritania to discuss security in the region.