Leading Malian opposition leader Soumaila Cisse has been abducted along with six members of his team while campaigning in the war-torn centre of the country, his party has said.
In a statement released on Wednesday, Cisse’s Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) party said the politician and his team had gone missing after campaigning near the town of Niafunke, in central Mali.
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In a subsequent briefing, the party said Cisse’s bodyguard was killed and two others wounded when unidentified gunmen ambushed the group between villages in the northern region of Timbuktu.
“Cisse and the six others are in their hands,” party spokesman Demba Traore said at a briefing, citing four witnesses to the incident who were released by the assailants. He added there has been no request for ransom.
Fighters with links to al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) launch frequent attacks on civilian and military targets in that part of the country, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
Cisse is a former minister of finance and has run for president of Mali three times.
He and his team were expected at the nearby village of Koumaira later in the afternoon, according to the party.
Mali has been struggling to contain an armed rebellion that erupted in the north in 2012, and which has claimed thousands of military and civilian lives.
Despite the presence of thousands of French and United Nations troops, the conflict in Mali has engulfed the centre of the country and spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.
Mali’s government said it was working with the military to find the hostages. Security sources told Reuters news agency at least one helicopter of United Nations peacekeepers was helping the search.