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 combination released on January 3, 2021 by the press office of the French army (Sirpa) shows sergeant Yvonne Huynh (L) and Brigadier Loic Risser, the two French soldiers killed by an improvised explosive device in northeastern Mali on January 3, 2021. Two French soldiers were killed just days on January 3, 2021, after three others died in similar fashion, the French presidency announced. - RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /SIRPA " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS
 / AFP / SIRPA / - / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO /SIRPA " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

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.

Servicemen of the '1er Regiment de Chasseurs' (1st Hunter Regiment) carry the coffins of three French soldiers who were killed in Mali serving in the country's 'Barkhane force' during a tribute ceremony at Thierville-sur-Meuse, eastern France on January 5, 2021.  Three French soldiers were killed on December 28, 2020, in Mali when their armoured vehicle struck an explosive device in the Hombori region in the centre of the poor Sahel state, the French presidency said. / AFP / JEAN-CHRISTOPHE VERHAEGEN

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.

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