BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — About 100 suspected Islamic extremists on motorcycles ambushed the Malian military convoy in the country’s volatile north, killing at least 33 people in the deadliest attack of its kind since the president was overthrown in a coup last year, officials said Wednesday.
More than a dozen others were wounded in Tuesday’s attack near Tassit, located about 60 kilometers (37 miles) southeast of Ansongo in the Gao region, according to a statement issued by the military.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the ambush, though Islamic extremists with links to al-Qaida and the Islamic State group are active in the area.
The military earlier said that the U.N. peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA helped evacuate the wounded soldiers. Helicopters from the French mission in Mali known as Operation Barkhane also helped the Malian military secure the area in the aftermath, a statement said.
Islamic extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a 2013 French-led military operation. However, the insurgents quickly regrouped in the desert and began launching frequent attacks on the Malian army and its allies fighting the insurgency.
The extremists have expanded their reach well into central Mali, where their presence has inflamed tensions between ethnic groups in the area.
Democratically elected President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita was forced to step down last August after mutinous soldiers circled his house and fired into the air. Under international pressure, the junta that had seized power appointed a civilian-led government to lead the country through an 18-month transition to new elections.