BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Malian authorities declared three days of national mourning to begin Thursday after a pair of weekend attacks by Islamic extremist groups killed dozens of soldiers and police officers across the volatile West African country.
In the deadliest violence, the Malian army said an attack Sunday in the northern region of Gao killed 42 soldiers. A statement said the assault was carried out by Islamic militants who used drones, artillery and booby-trapped vehicles.
Also Sunday, five police officers were killed in the country's south, when extremists attacked a police station near the border with Burkina Faso. Three other officers remained missing after the assault on the Sona border police station, said Soulaimane Traore, director-general of the national police.
The following day, militants belonging to an al-Qaida-linked group known as JNIM claimed responsibility.
Mali and its international partners have been fighting off extremists for nearly a decade, and the situation has showed signs of deteriorating after France began withdrawing its troops following a series of disputes with the Malian government.
In 2013, France led a military operation to expel Islamic militants from power in the major towns across Mali's north. But those elements eventually regrouped and began carrying out attacks ever southward against the military and U.N. peacekeepers.
France's withdrawal plan came after a junta led by Col. Assimi Goita carried out two coups within a nine-month period in 2020 and 2021. Observers fear the chaos has created yet another power vacuum for extremists to carry out more attacks.