Witnesses say 20 killed in central Mali airstrike

BAMAKO, MALI (AP) — At least 20 people have been killed in an airstrike on a village in central Mali where extremists had confronted a wedding party, witnesses said yesterday.

The French military said “several dozens” of extremists were killed in a Sunday afternoon airstrike led by French fighter jets close to the village of Bounti. There was no immediate comment from the Malian government.

French military spokesman Colonel Frederic Barbry denied a connection between the strike and a wedding party, saying such a link “does not correspond to information collected prior to the airstrike”.

Barbry told the Associated Press (AP) the operation followed an intelligence mission of several days that showed a “suspicious gathering of people”. The French military was able to conclude it was a “terrorist armed group” based on individuals’ attitudes, their equipment and other intelligence information, he said.

The airstrike was part of a larger operation by French troops aiming at fighting extremists in Africa’s Sahel region. Several French soldiers were killed in Mali last week when an improvised explosive device hit their armoured vehicle.

A man wounded in last Sunday’s strike told AP that the extremists had approached a group of civilians celebrating a wedding and demanded that the men in attendance separate from the women.

“We were in the process of carrying out the orders when I heard the sound of an airplane and immediately a strike from above. Afterward, I didn’t see anything because I was unconscious,” the man said from a health centre in Douentza, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.