Armed gunmen killed at least 23 people and wounded 12 in an attack on a village in central Mali, officials said Sunday.
Sidi Mohamed El Bechir, governor of the Bandiagara region where the attack took place, said unidentified men killed nearly two dozen people Friday and set fire to several homes in the village of Yarou.
“The assailants stayed in the village until 7 p.m. and burned down part of the village, smashed stores and took away the villagers’ cattle,” said Amadou Lougue, president of the regional youth organization on Sunday. The attack has not been claimed.
Communities across central and northern Mali have been in the grips of protracted armed violence since 2012. Extremist rebels were forced from power in the West African nation’s northern cities the following year, with the help of a French-led military operation. But they regrouped in the desert and began launching attacks on the Malian army and its allies.
Friday’s attack in the central Mopti region took place on the same day that the Malian army accused armed extremists of aiming a rocket at the western city of Timbuktu, 170 miles (275 kilometers) north of Bandiagara.
Elements of JNIM, a West African jihadi group linked with al-Qaida, placed a blockade on the ancient trading city nearly two weeks ago in response to an influx of Malian soldiers and foreign mercenaries into the area.
The blockade has caused shipments of food and other goods to halt. Boubacar Sadigh Ould Taled, a legislator in Mali’s interim junta-led government, said many residents of the nearby town of Ber have fled due to insecurity following the arrival of Malian troops and those from the Russian mercenary group Wagner in early August.
The recent uptick in insecurity in the area likely stems from the departure of a U.N. peacekeeping mission from its base in Ber, which has been under the control of separatist rebels since they signed a peace deal with the Malian government in 2015. A July U.N. resolution said the peacekeeping mission would be shuttered after a decade of operations.
Since a military junta seized power of the country in 2020, Mali has increasingly renounced intervention by Western nations, opting instead to unofficially partner with the Wagner Group to help regain control from armed groups in the center and north.
Analysts fear the 2015 peace deal, mediated with help from Algeria and the U.N. mission known as MINUSMA, may fall apart after the peacekeepers leave. The insecurity in Ber, which caused peacekeepers to leave earlier than planned, has become an early testing ground for post-MINUSMA Mali.