Some 40 Tuaregs, in northern Mali, are suspected to have been killed by jihadists, Menaka Governor Daouda Maiga told Reuters.
“The dead were mostly youths, no women or children, mostly of the age where they can carry arms,” Maiga said. “Nobody imagined that they would kill civilians in this way.”
The governor said the Islamic State-affiliated group likely launched the attack to incite conflict between Tuareg and Fulani herders. The attacks, which took place in two remote villages in as many days, were also confirmed by Menaka Mayor Nanout Kotia.
“There have been 43 deaths in two days, all civilians, from the same community,” tribal leader Sidigui Ag Hamadi told AFP, despite the presence of the French military and United Nations (UN) peacekeepers in the region. “They are targeting innocent civilians.”
The victims included many members of the Tuareg militia National Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), Reuters said.
“The MSA is fighting the Islamist groups, which are composed mostly of Fulani,” Maiga said. “So these two attacks were reprisals against them. They want to transform the conflict into something inter-communal.”
MSA has urged the governments of Mali and neighboring Niger to ensure that “an immediate end is put to these abominable crimes” adding that the group would “not give in to any intimidation.”
Two weeks ago, the UN peacekeeping operation said they had received “very serious” information that “summary executions of at least 95 people” had occurred during anti-jihadist operations in the northeastern Menaka region carried out by “a coalition of armed groups.”
The Tuareg people are mainly found in the Saharan regions of Niger, Mali, Libya, Algeria and Burkina Faso in North Africa. While the Fulanis spread across both the Sahel – an area south of the Sahara Desert which runs west to east across the continent – and the West African regions of Nigeria, Mali, Guinea, Cameroon, Senegal, and Niger.
The increased violence in Mali is threatening the upcoming July elections. Current President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is expected to seek a second term at the polls.