The Islamic State late on Saturday claimed responsibility for a devastating attack that left 50 soldiers dead in Mali as well as a blast that led to the death of a French soldier who became the latest casualty in the conflict-torn region.
The strikes underscored the fragility of an area straddling several West African countries battling increasing jihadist violence that has claimed hundreds of lives.
“Soldiers of the caliphate attacked a military base where elements of the apostate Malian army were stationed in the village of Indelimane,” the IS said in a statement on its social media channels.
On Saturday, French corporal Ronan Pointeau, 24, died after an armoured vehicle in which he was travelling hit an improvised explosive device (IED) near the city of Menaka, a French defence ministry statement said.
The French defence ministry said, “This insidious attack shows the importance and bitterness of the fight against armed terrorist groups” in the border region straddling Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso”.
French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly said she would be “visiting Mali very soon to hold discussions with Malian authorities.” President Emmanuel Macron paid tribute to Pointeau and expressed solidarity with the French and African troops fighting in the region.
The attack in the landlocked took place late on Friday after the militants stormed the camp in Indelimane of Menaka region.
An army officer said troops arrived at the outpost around 5:00 pm on Friday and “took back control of our positions.
“The terrorists carried out a surprise attack at lunchtime. Army vehicles were destroyed, others were taken away,” he told AFP.
Earlier, the Malian government condemned the “terrorist attack,” saying it had left numerous dead or wounded but without giving a precise toll.
“Reinforcements have been dispatched to secure the area and hunt down the attackers,” the statement added.
Mali’s army has been struggling in the face of a jihadist revolt that has spread from the arid north to its centre, an ethnically mixed and volatile region.
The recent assaults are also a humiliation for the so-called G5 Sahel force — a much-trumpeted initiative under which five countries created a joint 5,000-man anti-terror force — and for France, which is committed to shoring up the fragile region.
Northern Mali came under the control of Al-Qaeda linked jihadists after Mali’s army failed to quash a rebellion there in 2012.
A French-led military campaign was launched against the jihadists, pushing them back a year later.
But the jihadists have regrouped and widened their hit-and-run raids and landmine attacks to central and southern Mali.
(With PTI inputs)