Moussa Tolofidi didn’t think twice when last week about 100 jihadists on motorcycles gathered in his village in central Mali.
A peace deal was signed last year between some armed groups and the community in the Bankas region, even though gunmen sometimes entered the city to preach Sharia to villagers. But on this Sunday in June, everything changed – jihadists started killing people.
“They started with an old man about 100 years old… then the sound of arms all around me swelled up and then in an instant I heard a bullet whistle behind my ear. I felt the earth spinning, I lost consciousness and fell to the ground,” 28-year-old farmer Tolofidi told The Associated Press on Friday in the town of Mopti, where he was receiving medical care.
“It was dark around midnight when I woke up,” he said. “There were other people’s bodies on top of me. I could smell the blood and the smell of burnt things, and I could hear some people still moaning.”
two day attack
At least 132 people were killed in several villages in central Mali’s Bankas region during two days of attacks last weekend, according to the government, which blames the group for its support of Islam and Muslim jihadist rebels linked to al-Qaeda. Is.
The attack – the deadliest since rebel troops toppled President Ibrahim Boubakar Keita nearly two years ago – shows Islamic extremist violence is spreading to more central regions north of Mali, analysts have said.
The conflict-torn country has been battling extremist violence for a decade since jihadists seized major northern cities in 2012 and tried to take over the capital. They were pushed back by a French-led military campaign the following year, but have since returned to the ground.
The Associated Press on Friday spoke to several survivors who sought treatment at a hospital in Mopti and were from the villages of Dialsgau, Dianveli and Dessagou. People heard gunfire and jihadists shouting “Allahu Akbar,” Arabic for “God is great,” as they ran into the forest to save their lives.
Mali’s government blamed the attacks on the group for supporting Islam and Muslims, or JNIM, which is backed by al-Qaeda, though the group denied responsibility in a statement Friday.
UN says violence has displaced population
The United States and France condemned the attacks, and the United Nations Peacekeeping Mission (MINUSMA) in Mali issued a statement on Twitter, saying the violence had caused casualties and displaced the population.
Conflict analysts say the fact that the attacks took place in an area where local peace agreements were signed could signal the end of fragile agreements.
“The resurgence of tensions is probably linked to the termination of these local agreements, but it can also be linked to the intensification of military operations by defense forces,” said Baba Dakono, director of the Civil Observatory on Local Civil Society, Governance and Security. group.
Annie Damango, a mechanic from Dilasgau, fled her village when the shooting began, but said her uncle had been shot in the leg and was seriously injured.
“When I returned to the village. I learned of the massacre.”