GAO, Mali — A suicide bomber in an explosives-laden vehicle attacked a camp in northern Mali on Wednesday, killing more than 50 people and wounding more than 100 soldiers and former fighters now trying to stabilize the region.
Suspicion quickly fell on the Islamic extremist groups operating in the area which oppose the 2015 peace agreement that brought the parties together. A Mauritanian news agency that frequently receives communications from extremist groups, Alakhbar, said a group linked to al-Qaida’s North Africa branch, al-Mourabitoun, had claimed responsibility.
The attack marks a significant setback for efforts to achieve peace in the long-tumultuous region. The U.N. Security Council was expected to discuss Mali on Wednesday.
The morning blast hit the Joint Operational Mechanism base in the city of Gao, home to Malian soldiers and hundreds of former fighters who had signed the peace agreement with the government.
Dismembered bodies could still be seen two hours after the blast.
The attack targeted soldiers and members of rival armed groups who conduct regular patrols in a bid to secure northern Mali. AFP photo
A Malian military official, Col. Mohamed Ould, put the death toll at more than 50, with more than 100 others wounded. A government statement later said 47 had been killed, including five attackers, and called the toll provisional.
Dr. Sadou Maiga at Gao’s hospital told The Associated Press that all other hospital activities have ceased with dozens of wounded victims arriving.
“Some have died from their wounds, and others are in a very grave state,” he said. “At this point, it’s not the toll of dead and injured that interests me, it’s saving who I can.”
Witnesses said the car bearing explosives breached the camp at around 9 a.m., just as hundreds of fighters were gathering for a meeting.
The suicide bomber “succeeded in tricking soldiers’ vigilance” and penetrated the camp, said an army spokesman, Col. Diarran Kone.
Wednesday’s attack underscores the enormous challenges that remain in northern Mali four years after the French military led an intervention to drive the jihadists from power in the major towns across the north. The peace agreement has proved difficult to implement and unpopular with the forces wreaking havoc in the region.
“If the security situation continues to deteriorate, then soon there won’t be any peace to keep in Mali,” U.N. peacekeeping chief Herve Ladsous told the U.N. Security Council. He said attacks are becoming more sophisticated, and he reminded the council that it has the power to impose “targeted measures” against those who violate the cease-fire. He said rivalry among armed groups continues to slow implementation of the peace deal.
The former fighters who signed the 2015 peace deal include ethnic Tuareg secular rebels who once fought the Malian military. Now they are supposed to be forming joint patrols in the area, though the program has yet to begin.
Mali has become the world’s deadliest U.N. peacekeeping mission. Some 29 U.N. peacekeepers were killed last year in attacks blamed on jihadist armed groups, according to a Human Rights Watch report released Wednesday.
The report details how extremists are extending their reach further into central Mali, trying to implement their strict interpretation of Shariah law and pressuring families to give up their children as soldiers for the cause.
The report also denounces rising levels of banditry, a phenomenon victims say is fueled by the slow implementation of the 2015 peace accord.
Malian Security Minister Salif Traore declined to respond to the report’s specifics but said he is well aware of security challenges throughout the region.
At the United Nations, Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said the “criminal, cowardly, barbaric attack” will not deter the government from moving forward to promote peace.
French President Francois Hollande, who visited a French military base in Gao just a few days ago, condemned the attack “in the strongest terms” and reiterated France’s support for Mali’s peace process.
Associated Press writers Baba Ahmed in Port-Gentil, Gabon, Krista Larson in Dakar, Senegal, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations, Sylvie Corbet in Paris and Robbie Corey-Boulet in Abidjan, Ivory Coast contributed to this report.
At Least 67 Killed in Car Bomb Attack in Mali
Witnesses said the powerful blast covered the city of Goa in a dust cloud, forcing evacuations.
At least 67 people were killed in a suicide car bomb attack on a military barracks in the north of Mali on Wednesday, medical sources told EFE.
The source said the death toll was subject to change as there were many people injured in the attack.
According to preliminary information, the assailant detonated a car bomb in the northern city of Gao while entering barracks where hundreds of Malian soldiers and affiliated fighters had gathered.
A military force in Gao contacted by EFE said military sources did not rule out the possibility of subsequent attacks as the assailants took advantage of the pandemonium.
No group has yet claimed the attack, which was one of the most bloody registered in an unstable country where violence is constant.
The United Nations Security Council is to analyze a report on Wednesday on the current situation in the country which highly concerns the international community.
Gao, one of the most insecure areas in the country, is not under central government control, allowing several Islamist militant groups to operate and commit frequent attacks against Army and United Nations forces.