Mali car bombing kills 4 civilians, wounds 31 others, including soldiers
An attack on a military patrol in northern Mali killed four civilians and wounded 31 other people on Sunday, including four French soldiers, Mali's government and the French army said.
The ambush, which involved a car-bomb explosion followed by gunfire, took place two days after Islamist militants killed at least six people during a raid on a military headquarters in central Mali, where French and UN troops are helping combat insurgency across the country's vast desert reaches.
The deteriorating security situation one month ahead of presidential elections points to the difficulty international partners face restoring peace in Mali, which has become a launchpad for attacks by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) across West Africa.
Photos posted on social media showed black smoke billowing from an armoured vehicle surrounded by debris on a sandy road.
"From hospital sources, the provisional record after the suicide attack against a Barkhane patrol in Gao today ... was four civilians dead and 31 seriously injured, including eight from Barkhane," Mali's security ministry said on Twitter.
Barkhane is the name of the near 4,000-strong French force stationed in its former colonies across the Sahel region.
French army spokesperson Patrik Steiger said four French soldiers were wounded during the explosion, which occurred close to three French vehicles. Mali's Security Minister previously said eight French soldiers were wounded.
A spokesperson for Mali's Defence Ministry, Boubacar Diallo, said a car drove into a joint Barkhane-Malian army patrol.
"I confirm that it was a car bomb that drove into a joint Barkhane/Malian army patrol," Boubacar Diallo said.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, but violence by Islamist militants has spread across the sparsely-populated Sahel in recent years, slowly taking back control lost when French forces knocked back an uprising by Tuareg rebels and Islamists in 2013.
Western powers have provided funding to a regional force made up of soldiers from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania combating insurgents. But the so-called G5 force has been hobbled by delays disbursing the money and poor co-ordination between the five countries.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who last year complained that G5 was taking too long to set up, is due in Mauritania on Monday to discuss security in the region.
An advance team of Canadian peacekeepers arrived in Mali a week ago to lay the groundwork for a year-long mission. No Canadian forces were affected by Sunday's attack, the Canadian Armed Forces told CBC