Explosions and gunfire were heard in the early morning hours near the Kati military base on the outskirts of Mali’s capital Bamako, according to residents, in a suspected attack by armed fighters.
The military, which cordoned off the roads to Kati – about 15km (10 miles) northwest of Bamako – said on Friday it repelled a “terrorist attack” that used two explosive-laden vehicles.
“The provisional death toll is two assailants neutralised,” it said in a tweet. “The situation is under control and clearing operations are under way to flush out the authors and their accomplices.”
Les Forces Armées Maliennes ont vigoureusement repoussé une attaque terroriste contre la caserne de Kati. C’était tôt ce matin aux environs de 05h00 avec 02 véhicules piégés bourrés d’explosifs.
— Forces Armées Maliennes (@FAMa_DIRPA) July 22, 2022
“The Malian Armed Forces vigorously repelled a terrorist attack on the Kati barracks. It was early this morning around 05:00 with 02 vehicle bombs packed with explosives.”
“We were woken up at five o’clock [in the morning] by firing, by explosions, we don’t know what’s going on,” a resident, speaking on condition of anonymity, said.
At 8am, an AFP journalist heard detonations from inside the camp.
Malian special forces personnel were deployed in the area, and two helicopters flew overhead.
The French embassy sent text messages to French nationals saying “attack under way at Kati” and urging caution.
The authorities in Kati could not be immediately reached for comment.
The leader of Mali’s ruling military government, Lieutenant Colonel Asimi Goita, frequently stays at the Kati camp, where he launched the 2020 coup that brought him to power.
Armed rebels linked to al-Qaeda and the ISIL (ISIS) armed groups have been fighting in the West African country for more than 10 years. Their attacks have mostly been in northern Mali but recently the fighters moved into central Mali and now, closer to the capital.
At dawn on Friday, at about the same time as the gunfire was heard at Kali, suspected armed fighters carried out further attacks on security forces, including at Kolokani, about 100km (60 miles) north of the capital.
Last week, gunmen attacked an army checkpoint about an hour outside Bamako, killing at least six people and wounding several others, officials said.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack, but there are specualtions by members of the public that it was carried out by Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), an armed group linked to al-Qaeda that has carried out several other attacks around Bamako.
The attacks show “how the al-Qaeda affiliate Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin continues to expand its operations outside its traditional strongholds in northern and central Mali,” said Heni Nsaibia, a senior researcher at The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project.
“As in other Sahelian countries such as Burkina Faso and Niger … major cities including the capitals themselves, are increasingly surrounded by a steady spread of Islamist militancy that poses an ever-increasing risk and challenge to the security environment.”
Goita had been facing mounting protests at failures to stem an armed campaign that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 and then spread to the country’s volatile centre, Niger and Burkina Faso.
Across the three countries, thousands of civilians, troops and police have been killed and more than two million people have fled their homes.
A spat with France triggered a pullout of French forces that have been fighting rebels in Mali for nearly a decade. The withdrawal is expected to be completed in the coming weeks.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic row seems to be in the offing with the UN’s peacekeeping force MINUSMA, whose spokesman was told to leave the country this week.