Gunmen have killed at least 12 civilians in an attack on a village in central Mali, two officials said on Friday, the latest reported attack in an area rife with jihadist activity.
The West African nation is battling a violent insurgency with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State that took root in its arid north following a Tuareg separatist rebellion in 2012, reports Reuters.
Militants have since spread to other countries in the Sahel region south of the Sahara and more recently to coastal states, seizing territory, killing thousands and uprooting millions in the process.
The latest attack took place on Thursday evening in a village in the Bankass Circle, in Mali's Mopti region, said the mayor of the nearby town of Bankass, Moulaye Guindo.
"Unidentified armed men burst into the village and shot at people. They chased after those who fled into (surrounding) forest to kill them," Guindo told Reuters via telephone.
"This morning we counted 19 dead and the search (for bodies) is ongoing," he added.
The mayor of Kani Bonzon, another nearby town, confirmed the attack and said the local clinic had received 12 bodies so far.
"Armed men... shot at people, burnt and ransacked the village," Soumaila Guindo told Reuters. "There are many dead."
Mali has struggled to stem the insurgency despite the intervention of foreign troops and U.N. peacekeepers.
Frustration over growing insecurity has spurred two military coups since August 2020. The junta has burnt bridges with traditional Western allies and turned to Russian mercenaries for help.
That alliance was one of the factors that prompted France to pull troops out of the country last year. Several other nations have since followed suit.