Bamako – Dozens of Malians demonstrated on Tuesday in the central town of Bankass to demand state protection after suspected jihadists massacred at least 132 civilians, and possibly many more, in nearby neighbouring villages.
The mass killing – the latest in a series of attacks across the Sahel – resulted in one of Mali’s highest civilian death tolls.
The government says fighters from the Fulani religious leader Amadou Koufa’s armed group, the Katiba Macina, killed 132 civilians in Diallassagou and two surrounding villages, a few dozen kilometres (miles) from Bankass.
A local official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there were “more than 200 dead and missing”.
“We have never seen anything like this in Mali – the state must do something,” he told AFP.
A police official said more bodies had been found on Tuesday.
Junta leader Colonel Assimi Goita declared three days of mourning and the government on Tuesday sent a delegation of four ministers – led by Colonel Ismael Wague, a junta strongman – to the scene, some 500 kilometres (310 miles) northeast of Bamako.
They expressed their sympathy and stopped by the hospital in Mopti where some of the injured are being treated.
“We gave them symbolic ‘envelopes’ from the president of the transition, Colonel Goita,” said Health Minister Dieminatou Sangare, who was also part of the delegation.
The junta – which seized power in 2020 after months of protests against the civilian government’s failure to end the violence racking the country – on Monday said the safety of Mali’s citizens remained its “absolute priority”.
But that was not enough for the people of Bankass, the capital of the area where the massacre took place.
“We want the authorities to think about us,” a woman who did not give her name told reporters after a march to demand better security.
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“I lost my two children – I have nothing to live for. Look for yourselves, we are being martyred, raped, abandoned,” she added before bursting into tears.
A collective that says it is made up of elected officials and civil society representatives has declared “civil disobedience” until further notice.
“Apart from health, all public services have been blocked – almost no one has gone to work,” a youth leader said.
Political leaders in Bamako expressed sympathy while rallying around the armed forces.
But a group of political parties named the “Cadre d’echange”, or Exchange Framework, and the National Human Rights Commission urged the authorities to take measures to prevent such tragedies happening again.
Local officials said dozens of jihadists appeared on motorcycles, then rounded up and massacred dozens of men over the weekend.
They also said the armed men burned down shops, looted villages and stole cattle.
The bloodbath is believed to have culminated on Saturday night, with many people fleeing their homes.
Central Mali has been plagued by violence since the al-Qaeda-affiliated Katiba Macina emerged in 2015.
Much of the area is beyond state control and is prone to violence by self-defence militias and inter-community reprisals.
On March 23, 2019, more than 160 Fulani civilians were massacred in the village of Ogossagou.
Since 2012, Mali has been rocked by an insurgency by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State group.
Violence that began in the north has since spread to the centre and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Thousands of civilians and combatants have died and hundreds of thousands have been displaced in one of the world’s poorest regions.
Two thirds of Mali remains beyond state control.
The junta has recently turned away from Mali’s former military allies, including France, and towards the Russians.
But Mali has seen a series of mass killings in recent months, including in the so-called three-border area on the border with Niger and Burkina Faso.
No one has claimed responsibility for the Diallassagou massacre.
Such mass killings are typically attributed to Islamic State-affiliated groups rather than al-Qaeda-affiliated groups.
However, it is normally the Katiba Macina that operate in the Bankass area.
Nouhoum Togo, a local elected official in Bankass, told AFP the attack was a reprisal against locals after the Malian army on June 10 carried out an operation there, in which it said it had “neutralised” six jihadists.
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