Malian troops and suspected Russian fighters allegedly executed around 300 civilian men over five days during a military operation in a central Malian town in late March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report on Tuesday. FRANCE 24 terrorism expert Wassim Nasr gives his analysis, saying that this was a counter-jihadist operation sparked by bad intelligence.
The alleged killings took place between March 27 and 31 in the town of Moura, a rural town of around 10,000 inhabitants in central Mali’s Mopti region, a hotspot of extremist activity that has intensified and spread to neighbouring countries in the Sahel region.
“The incident is the worst single atrocity reported in Mali’s decade-long armed conflict,” HRW said.
“There was a very particular context,” behind what happened, said FRANCE 24 terrorism specialist Wassim Nasr. “Since many weeks the Malian military – helped with Russian elements – is trying to make a kind of surge in the central region of Mali.”
“They are attacking many jihadi strongholds,” Nasr continued. “But the thing is, the jihadis aren’t resisting, or at least they weren’t – up til the beginning of last month. They counter-attacked after absorbing the new force, which is the Russians actually, and counter-attacked in Mondoro, causing the deaths of more than 40 Malian military. In the last two months, the Malian military lost up to 160 men in this region.”
The Malian army “based their operation there on bad information – or bad intelligence”, Nasr explained. “I got to know that a member of the first circle of Mohamad Koufa, a prominent leader of al Qaeda there, was caught and brought into interrogation in [the Malian capital] Bamako – and actually this person gave some information, saying that Koufa could be in this region of Moura, which launched this operation with at least 100 Russian operatives backing the Malian army.”
UN’s MINUSMA peacekeeping force is present in the region but did not intervene because “they cannot intervene”, explained Nasr, citing the widespread exclusion zone in the area.
The Malian defence ministry issued a statement on April 1 saying that from March 23 to 31, the army had killed 203 “terrorists” and arrested 51 more.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)