Militant group linked to Al Qaeda claims it killed two French soldiers in Mali
French military death toll in West Africa reaches 50 after latest deadly attack
A militant group with links to Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed two French soldiers in Mali.
The pair died on Saturday when their vehicle hit an explosive device in the north-east of the country, days after three others were killed in similar fashion.
The deaths brought to 50 the number of French military personnel killed in the West African nation since France intervened in 2013 to help repel extremist forces.
The Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) said it "detonated an explosive device" as the vehicle was passing, "bringing the toll to five in less than a week", in a statement by its propaganda platform Al-Zallaqa late on Monday.
The latest attack killed Brig Loic Risser, 24, and Sgt Yvonne Huynh, 33, the mother of a young child and the first female soldier killed since the French operation began in the Sahel region.
The GSIM denied responsibility for an attack on two villages in western Niger on Saturday which killed 100 people – the biggest civilian massacre in the Sahel's eight-year Islamist insurgency.
"This attack, whoever carried it out, is not different from the massacres of the French occupiers and criminal militias," the GSIM said.
In November, Barkhane force commander Marc Conruyt named the group the "most dangerous" in the region.
The GSIM statement was authenticated by SITE Intelligence, which monitors extremist activities worldwide.
On Tuesday, a tribute ceremony was held at Thierville-sur-Meuse, eastern France, for the three soldiers killed on December 28.
France said it killed a group of extremists in a weekend air strike in Bounti, central Mali, while several villagers claimed up to 20 wedding guests were killed by a helicopter.
French military headquarters told AFP fighter jets "neutralised" dozens of extremists in central Mali after the group had been tracked for several days.
"The reports relating to a wedding do not match the observations that were made," an army spokesman told AFP.
Updated: January 5, 2021 10:09 PM