31 killed in ambush, including 4 civilians, near Mali capital

MYALA, Mali — Militants on Sunday ambushed a convoy of Malian soldiers and government employees, killing at least 31 people in a town northeast of the capital Bamako, officials said.

The convoy was traveling from Kidal to the city of Sévaré in the center of the country, when militants ambushed it shortly after 2 a.m., Sévaré Mayor Mamadou Salam Baba Djibo said. The bodies of 23 soldiers and four civilians were found, local officials told The Associated Press.

A spokesman for Mali’s anti-terrorist unit, Modibo Nama Traore, said 26 other soldiers were lightly wounded, and 14 people, including three civilians, were taken into custody for questioning.

The bodies were transported to neighboring Burkina Faso, the mayor said.

“This is a mass grave,” Djibo said, calling it a “cowardly attack.”

At least 60 attackers were involved in the ambush, the mayor said. The militants entered the town using night vision goggles, he said.

The convoy was traveling for the Malian government to announce the transfer of the region to the care of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, who left Kidal for Sévaré after having signed a peace agreement there with the Tuareg-led National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or NMLA, in August.

Mali’s Malian armed forces, supported by French troops, have been the main players in quelling the growing threat from Islamist groups that have turned Mali’s north into a center of operations for international terrorism. Al-Qaida-linked groups have overran several northern towns during the past decade.

France’s central government – deeply immersed in the crisis in its former West African colonies – has refused to take responsibility for stabilizing the country’s south, as its troops come to terms with their extraordinary efforts there.

Mali is one of several countries in the region left vulnerable in the region after the Islamic State group took advantage of Syria and Iraq’s wars to establish strongholds in the southern reaches of the Sahara, the vast, inhospitable territory of the desert that stretches from Libya to Mauritania.

Al-Qaida and Islamic State affiliates were among more than a dozen armed groups that signed the peace agreement in August in Kidal, including the NMLA. But it has not been respected.

Risk Analysis Group’s terrorism analyst Markus Gensburg said a report it released last week said that despite a lack of progress in implementation, the “Kidal Peace Agreement has nevertheless served as a key means of facilitating the political and economic integration of rebel-held northern Mali.”

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