Early on Sunday morning, an attack by unknown gunmen targeted a Malian army position in Almoustarat, located in the Tilemsi Valley, Gao Region, about 150km north of the regional capital Gao. The assailants cut off the local telephone network hampering communications from the village and also reporting about the events that had taken place. A not uncommon measure taken by jihadists and bandits in connection to armed attacks in the region.
Local media reported that a booby-trapped vehicle struck the Malian army position, causing panic among the soldiers with some fleeing towards Bourem. The provisional casualty toll reported late on Sunday counted 7 dead soldiers, 17 severely wounded (2 in a state of coma), 16 gone missing, and 3 pick-ups with heavy weapons mounted and ammunition seized. French Barkhane forces dispatched to the site of the attack evacuated the wounded to Gao.
The Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed responsibility for the attack – The assault targeted a base used as staging area for combing operations against the Mujahideen, and as a recruitment center for spies and agents working for the benefit of occupying Barkhane forces, but also the exacerbated frequency and widths of public violations of Muslim sanctities in the town, the statement said. Further, the attack was carried out from multiple axes, initiated with a Suicide Vehicle-Borne Improvised Explosive Device (SVBIED) striking the garrison headquarters (perpetrator named by his nom de guerre Ahmad al-Ansari), followed by groups of ‘inghimasiyyin’ (commandos) and raiders who completely destroyed and burned the barracks, 7 vehicles and 2 trucks and also seized weapons and military material before returning to safety, the statement continued.
This is not the first time Malian forces have been attacked in Almoustarat, on March 25 unknown gunmen attacked an army checkpoint leaving 3 soldiers dead and 4 wounded. The presence of Malian government forces is highly contested in the area, not just by jihadists, but also armed groups, drug traffickers and smugglers. The Tilemsi Valley functions as a transit hub for trafficking routes and connects the regions of Gao and Kidal, therefore of strategic importance.
Just a few days ago on May 3, was the MINUSMA ‘Super Camp’ in Timbuktu subjected to a mortar barrage which left 1 peacekeeper dead and 9 wounded, JNIM claimed responsibility.