Mali river boat attacked by suspected jihadists

Mali (Laurence SAUBADU)
Mali (Laurence SAUBADU)

A passenger boat on the Niger River in northern Mali was attacked on Thursday by suspected jihadists, the Malian army said.

"At around 11:00 am (1100 GMT), armed terrorist groups... attacked a Comanav boat" in the Gourma-Rharous area, it said on social media, referring to the ferry's operator.

The boat, plying an established route between cities along the river, was targeted by "at least three rockets" which aimed at its engines, Comanav said separately.

There were no details of any casualties, and the authorities provided no followup on the incident hours after their initial report.

The vessel is immobilised on the river and the army are evacuating passengers, a Comanav official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Images on social media showed a cloud of black smoke rising above the river. The incident took place in a remote area and the images could not be verified independently.

The Niger is a vital transport link in a region where road infrastructure is poor and railways absent.

The attack comes after an al-Qaeda-linked alliance, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), announced last month that it was blockading Timbuktu, the historic crossroads city of northern Mali.

The impoverished state has been struggling with insecurity since 2012, when a revolt led by ethnic Tuaregs erupted in the troubled north.

The insurgency was fanned by jihadists, who three years later took their own campaign into central Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, sending shockwaves across the Sahel.

In northern Mali, the regional rebellion was formally ended by a peace agreement signed between the rebels and the Malian government in 2015.

However, the fragile deal came under strain after the civilian government was toppled in 2020 and replaced by a junta.

Tensions in the region have revived in recent weeks after the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, which has been told to leave by year's end, handed over two bases near Timbuktu to the armed forces.

The handover triggered clashes between the army and the jihadists and led to an angry showdown with the former rebels, stoking fears for the 2015 peace agreement.