Bamako – A jihadist group in Mali on Monday claimed to have captured a fighter from the Kremlin-linked Wagner mercenary group reportedly fighting Islamist militants in the West African country.
“In the first week of April, we captured a soldier of the Russian Wagner forces in the Segou region in central Mali,” the GSIM (the Group to Support Islam and Muslims) said in a statement sent to AFP overnight.
It is the first time the GSIM, an Al-Qaeda-linked alliance and the biggest jihadist network in the Sahel, has announced the capture of a fighter with the Wagner group.
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The United States, France and others say Russian paramilitaries in Mali are operatives from the private-security firm Wagner, which has also been accused of abuses in the Central African Republic.
Mali’s military-dominated government has denied the accusations and said the Russians in the country are military instructors.
The GSIM statement said that “these murderous forces participated with the Malian army in an airdrop operation on a market in the village of Moura, where they confronted several mujahideen before encircling this locality for five days and killing hundreds of innocent civilians”.
The Russian mercenaries also carried out “two parachute operations” in central Mali, added the jihadist group, which said its fighters had confiscated weapons “from the mercenaries who fled”.
Vast swathes of Mali lie beyond government control due to the brutal conflict, which began in 2012 before spreading to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
France, which intervened in Mali in 2013, decided in February to withdraw its forces from the country after a decade-long fight against jihadists.
The Sahel country is led by a military junta that seized power in a coup in 2020.
The junta initially promised to restore civilian rule, but it failed to meet an earlier commitment to West Africa bloc ECOWAS to stage elections in February this year, prompting regional sanctions.
Last month the military-dominated government in Bamako says it “neutralised” 203 jihadists in the central village of Moura, but witnesses interviewed by media and Human Rights Watch say scores of civilians were killed.
The UN’s MINUSMA force has been asking the Malian authorities in vain to allow it to visit Moura to investigate the events.
Picture: Twitter / @gombeenland