BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Gunmen ambushed a U.N. convoy in conflict-wracked northern Mali on Thursday killing six peacekeepers and wounding five others, the U.N. said. All the victims were from Burkina Faso.
The U.N. mission in this west African nation has the highest number of casualties of the world body’s 16 far-flung peacekeeping operations. The latest attack raised the toll to 42 peacekeepers killed and 166 wounded since the Mali mission was established in April 2013.
U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon condemned the latest violence saying it won’t alter the U.N.’s determination to support the Malian people and efforts to restore peace. The U.N. Security Council also strongly condemned the attack, calling on Mali’s government to swiftly investigate and bring the perpetrators to justice, and reaffirming the need to combat all “acts of terrorism.”
Tuareg rebels took over Mali’s north in 2012 following a military coup, but al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists hijacked the offensive, prompting a French-led military intervention in 2013. It pushed the extremists from the major cities and towns in the north, but the country has grown increasingly unstable, and U.N. troops are struggling to maintain peace.
The convoy was attacked Thursday morning about 45 kilometers (27 miles) south of Timbuktu while patrolling on the road between Goundam and Timbuktu, the mission said. The U.N. said two vehicles were destroyed and the mission was evacuating all the peacekeepers.
It was unclear who staged the attack, but Tuareg camp residents in the area said they saw a jihadist flag on the attackers’ vehicles.
The Mauritanian Al-Akhbar news agency, which regularly carries credible claims of responsibility by jihadist groups, reported that al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility. The group said it killed seven peacekeepers, one more than the U.N. reported.
Associated Press Writer Edith M. Lederer contributed to this report from the United Nations