An Extremist Group And Ethnic Militias Committed Atrocities In Mali, Human Rights Watch Says

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — An extremist group linked to al-Qaida carried out mass killings in two villages in central Mali in January, Human Rights Watch said in a report Wednesday, in an apparent war crime that caused thousands to flee their homes.

The group known as JNIM killed at least 32 people, including three children, during attacks on Jan. 27 on the villages of Ogota and Ouémbé, and set fire to over 350 homes, the report said, quoting villagers who described the carnage as ethnically motivated.

The report also documented a separate incident in which an ethnic armed group killed 13 people and abducted 24 civilians in two other villages in central Mali on Jan. 6.

“Islamist armed groups and ethnic militias are brutally attacking civilians without fear of prosecution,” said Ilaria Allegrozzi, senior Sahel researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities need to act to end the deadly cycles of violence and revenge killings and better protect threatened civilians.”

The attacks are part of a cycle of retaliatory killings in central Mali, where extremists and ethnic armed groups operate, Human Rights Watch said. Some ethnic groups like the Fulani have been targeted by Dogon and Bambara militias, who accuse them of backing extremist groups such as JNIM.

Survivors of the attacks told Human Rights Watch they were targeted because of their ethnicity and called on the government to do more to protect them.

Mali, along with its neighbors Burkina Faso and Niger, has battled an insurgency by armed groups, including some allied with al-Qaida and the Islamic State group. Following military coups in all three nations in recent years, the ruling juntas have expelled French forces and turned to Russia’s mercenary units for security assistance.

In December 2023, the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali pulled out of the country at the request of the junta.

“We have continuously asked for a military presence but the government says that the army does not have the manpower to ensure one,” a resident of Segue, a village in central Mali, told The Associated Press. He did not want to be named out of fear of reprisal from local armed groups.

Malian authorities declined to comment.