BAMAKO, Mali (AP) – Gunmen attacked several villages in northern Mali, “shot anything that moves” and killed at least 40 people in overt retaliation for the recent arrest of several jihadist leaders, the authorities said on Monday.
The most recent violence occurred in the unstable area on the borders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, where extremists with ties to the Islamic State operate.
The attackers identified themselves as jihadists when they arrived in Ouatagouna and Karou parishes around 6 p.m. on Sunday, local official Oumar Cisse said.
“Most of the victims stood in front of their homes, while others went to the mosque,” he told The Associated Press
The attack comes a week after the Malian army arrested two jihadists who were denounced by residents of Ouattagouna and Karou.
Islamic extremists have been a threat in the region for years. The jihad rebels took control of cities in northern Mali for the first time in 2012. Although a French-led military platoon forced the rebels out of urban centers the following year, militants quickly regrouped in rural areas and continued to wreak havoc on military targets.
Civilians are also increasingly being attacked. Hundreds have been killed in a series of mass murders in villages near the Niger-Mali border since January.
France, the former colonial power, announced last month that it would withdraw more than 2,000 soldiers from the Sahel, the vast area below the Sahara that spans several countries, by the beginning of next year.
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