In a still provisional assessment, at least 64 individuals – comprising 49 civilians and 15 soldiers – fell victim to two “terrorist” attacks on Thursday, September 7th, targeting a passenger transport boat and an army base in northern Mali. Following this tragic incident, the government, which is predominantly led by the military, declared a three-day national mourning period, commencing on Friday.
The two separate attacks targeted the “Tombouctou” boat on the Niger River and the “army position” in Bamba, within the Gao region in the north. The government’s statement reports a provisional tally of 49 civilians and 15 military personnel killed in the attacks. It does not specify the exact number of casualties on the boat and at the base. According to the statement, the military’s response resulted in the “neutralization of around fifty terrorists,” and the assault on the boat led to “injuries as well as material damage.”
Both attacks have been “claimed” by the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (GSIM or Jnim, in Arabic acronym), a jihadist alliance affiliated with Al-Qaeda, via the propaganda platform Al-Zallaqa.
The vessel, belonging to the Malian Navigation Company (Comanav, publicly owned), came under attack in the Gourma-Rharous region, situated between Tombouctou and Gao, as earlier reported by the Malian military on social media. The boat was targeted by “at least three rockets fired at its engine,” as indicated by Comanav. The company, responsible for a vital transportation link covering several hundred kilometers from Koulikoro, near Bamako, to Gao, traversing major cities along the river, confirmed that the “Tombouctou,” capable of carrying around 300 passengers, had indeed been hit. However, they refrained from specifying the exact number of individuals on board at the time.
This attack unfolded a few weeks after GSIM announced, in early August, the imposition of a blockade on Tombouctou. This development coincides with the ongoing security reconfiguration in the vicinity of the city, known for its cultural heritage as a UNESCO World Heritage site housing 333 saints’ tombs.