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Mali: At Least 49 Civilians Killed in Attack on River Boat

On September 7, 2023, Mali saw a series of devastating attacks that shocked the nation and the international community. The most prominent of these attacks targeted a passenger boat traveling on the Niger River near the city of Timbuktu.

The assailants, suspected to be connected to al-Qaeda, launched a brazen assault on the vessel operated by Compagnie Malienne De Navigation (Comanav). The boat, named Tombouctou, was on the way between the towns of Abakoira and Zorghoi when it went under attack.

No less than 49 civilians lost their lives in this terrible occurrence. It is crucial to note that this was not the first time Comanav had been targeted, as a previous attack had claimed the life of a 12-year-old child.

Mali: At Least 49 Civilians Killed in Attack on River Boat

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Meanwhile, one more attack was done on a military position in Bamba, a town further downstream in the Gao region. This attack resulted in the deaths of 15 government soldiers.

The culprits behind these organized attackts identified themselves as the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), a militant group associated with al-Qaeda.

The government of Mali swiftly responded to the attacks, claiming to have killed approximately 50 of the assailants while attempting to protect civilians and secure the region. In response to the tragic events, Mali’s interim government declared three days of national mourning to honor the victims.

The Niger Waterway serves in as an essential transportation route in Mali, a nation where road infrastructure is often inadequate or non-existent. Its significance to the region cannot be overstated, as it facilitates the movement of people, goods, and supplies.

The attacks on a passenger boat navigating this essential waterway highlight the audacious nature of the assailants and their intent to disrupt not only civilian life but also the country’s economic activities.

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Mali has been wrestling with a diverse emergency starting around 2012 when various political and ethnic-led insurgent groups began taking up arms against the government, vying for territorial control.

These conflicts have intensified since the military junta seized power in 2021, following a coup that led to the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. The coup was catalyzed by widespread dissatisfaction among the population, fueled by economic uncertainty, a contested election, and chronic insecurity.

Despite the change in leadership, data suggests that Mali’s military government has made limited progress in its efforts to combat the rising influence of Islamist militant groups that control significant parts of the country.

The northern city of Timbuktu, where the new boat attack happened, has been under blockade since late August 2023, further exacerbating the plight of its residents.

Mali’s security circumstance has been additionally muddled by the presence of numerous Islamist militant groups operating in the region. Among them, the al-Qaeda-linked group, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), has claimed responsibility for some of the recent attacks.

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These groups have taken advantage of the country’s weak governance structures, the stalled implementation of a 2015 peace agreement, and persistent attacks on communities.

As a result, they have gained significant ground, especially in the Sahel region, extending their influence into neighboring countries like Burkina Faso and Niger.

Because of the raising Violence, Mali’s military authorities have taken significant steps. They ordered French troops and UN peacekeepers out of the country and invited Russian contractors, specifically the Wagner Group, to replace them.

This decision marked a significant shift in Mali’s foreign policy and security strategy, reflecting a shift away from Western partners.

The connection among Mali and France, its former colonial ruler, has deteriorated due to the junta’s delay in returning the country to democratic rule.

President Macron of France expressed concerns about remaining militarily engaged alongside de facto authorities whose strategies and objectives differed from those of France. As a result, France initiated the withdrawal of its troops from Mali, further complicating the security landscape in the region.

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