BAMAKO: A Daesh-linked terrorist group killed at least 40 civilians this week who were caught up between fighting militant groups in Mali’s conflict-plagued north.
The latest bloodshed in the Sahel country, which has been trying to counter militants since 2013, comes as France said it would withdraw its forces after disagreements with the ruling military junta.
“There are at least 40 civilian deaths in three different sites” in the Tessit area near the borders of Burkina Faso and Niger, a civilian official in the area told western media.
The official, whose name is being withheld for security reasons, said the death toll was provisional because the information was patchy and coming in slowly from the remote and dangerous area.
“These civilians had been accused by one group of complicity with the other group,” the official said.
Two Tessit residents, based in the regional capital Gao and national capital Bamako, confirmed the scale of the violence after speaking with witnesses who had fled the carnage.
A spokesman for a group of armed northern militias reported a similar death toll.
Tessit is in the “three borders” area, a hotspot of militant violence.
The Daesh in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and the Sahel’s largest alliance, the Al Qaeda-aligned GSIM terror groups, are particularly active in the area.
As well as attacking local and foreign troops, they have been fighting each other for territory since 2020.
Tessit, a rural area in the Gao region, has seen an outbreak of violence in recent weeks, with the hashtag #JeSuisTessit (I am Tessit) appearing on social media.
It has been cut off from the telephone network for several years, making communication difficult.
Three local sources including the northern militia spokesman said that GSIM militants went to several villages near Tessit, including Keygourouten, Bakal, and Tadjalalt, between February 8 to 10.
Accusing the local shopkeepers of supplying their rival EIGS, the GSIM militants ransacked a health center, a pharmacy, a water tower, and a shop, as well as stole an ambulance.
The GSIM militants also ordered the residents to leave. Between 150 and 200 households fled to Niger and surrounding towns, an aid worker and Tadjalalt residents said on condition of anonymity.
Then on Monday and Tuesday, EIGS militants arrived in the same villages.
“They accused the men of being accomplices of GSIM. They killed the old men and the young men,” the official in the Tessit area said.
Thirty were executed in Tadjalalt, the official said.
It is a common scenario, the official added, saying that “when a (militant) group passes through a village, the one that comes later accuses the residents of being accomplices”.
The residents of the villages, who are “unable to kill a fly”, thus become caught up in the rivalry.
Mali’s ruling junta, which seized power in a coup in 2020 after rising public outrage about elected leaders’ inability to stem the bloodshed, has yet to speak about the Tessit violence.
The forces deployed to the three borders area include the national army as well as French and European troops and UN peacekeepers.
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced that he was withdrawing his nation’s troops which had been fighting militants in Mali since 2014.