Sixteen killed in Mali army base attack

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Gunmen attacked and briefly seized a Malian army base, killing at least 16 soldiers and destroying five vehicles in central Mali’s Mopti region, officials said.

The base is in Dioura, Youssouf Coulibaly, mayor of nearest town, Kareri, told Reuters by telephone from the base he visited after the attack. Central Mali has in the past few years been overrun by jihadists with links to al Qaeda.

“The toll was heavy, catastrophic,” a spokesman for Defence Minister Tiemoko Sangare said, adding the minister would head to the area to assess what happened.

Violence by jihadist groups worsened almost every year since it first exploded in Mali in 2012, when Islamists and allied Tuareg rebels took over the north and advanced toward Bamako. A French-led intervention pushed them back the following year.

“All our thoughts are with the brave soldiers of the Malian Army who fell in Dioura protecting people against a cowardly enemy,” President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita said in a statement his office posted on Twitter.

“Mali and its people are united and unwavering against these disgraceful acts.”

A joint statement by Mali’s main Tuareg rebels and ethnic Fulani vigilante groups “condemned in the strongest terms this terrorist attack”.

Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State increasingly use central and northern Mali as a launchpad for attacks across the Sahel region, especially on neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso, despite the presence of 4,500 French troops.

Central Mali is the locus of the Macina Liberation Front, led by Salafist preacher and militant leader Amadou Koufa. French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said in November Koufa was killed in a raid by French forces. At the end of Debruary, Koufa appeared in a new propaganda video mocking French and Malian forces.