Saturday, March 6, 2021

French army denies its helicopter attacked Mali wedding, killing guests

France says a military operation involving an airstrike had killed dozens of Islamist insurgents in the area.

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Reports from Mali say more than 20 people, including women and children, were killed when an airstrike hit a wedding party in a remote village at the weekend.

Residents of Bounti, in the central Mopti region, said a helicopter opened fire on the marriage ceremony on Sunday.

The French military, which has troops in the region, said it carried out a strike on jihadist militants in central Mali, but that no wedding was involved.

On Tuesday, France said a military operation involving an airstrike and carried out after days of tracking individuals had killed dozens of Islamist insurgents in the area.

A spokesman for the French military, who was not named, told AFP news agency that “reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made”.

Villagers in Bounti said a low-flying helicopter, which has not been identified, carried out the strike in broad daylight.

Witnesses said the attacks appeared to target men on motorbikes who were believed to be Islamist militants.

One man who was wounded in the strike told the Associated Press that the extremists had approached a group of villagers who were celebrating a wedding and demanded that the men in attendance separate from the women.

“We were carrying out their orders when I heard the sound of an airplane and immediately a strike came from above. Afterwards, I didn’t see anything because I was unconscious,” the man said from a health centre in Douentza, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Other villagers in Bounti said a lone helicopter opened fire in broad daylight, sowing panic among the crowd. Ahmadou Ghana said two of his brothers were killed. “It was run for your lives,” he told AFP.

On Saturday, two French soldiers were killed while collecting intelligence when their armoured vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device in Mali’s eastern region of Menaka, the French authorities announced.

It followed the deaths of three other French soldiers in the country earlier in the week, also when an improvised explosive device hit their vehicle. In that instance, militants from the Group to Support Islam and Muslims, which is linked to Al-Qaeda, claimed they were behind the attack.

France has 5,100 troops in the Sahel region, which has been a front line in the war against Islamist militancy in Africa for almost a decade.

The French first intervened in the Sahel region – an arid stretch of land just south of the Sahara Desert which includes Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – in 2013.

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