The SITE Intelligence monitoring organisation said on Monday that an Al-Qaeda-affiliated jihadist group claimed to have killed four mercenaries from the Russian private security company Wagner in an ambush in central Mali.
According to a statement confirmed by SITE, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the primary jihadist coalition in the Sahel, attacked a group of Wagner troops on Saturday as they rode motorbikes in the Bandiagara region from the town of Djallo towards the highlands.
According to the statement, its forces murdered four members of the organisation while the others fled.
The event was reported by two local elected officials to syndicate feed, but a senior Malian army officer refused to confirm or deny it.
“Four Russians were slain by jihadists near Bandiagara over the weekend,” one local official, who requested anonymity, told a syndicated feed.
A medical source in the area verified the “death in the fighting of four Russians,” adding that one of them had “passed through Mopti hospital.”
In its struggle against a long-running Islamist insurgency, Russia has become a strong friend of Mali’s ruling junta.
To assist the embattled armed forces, the dictatorship has invited in Russian paramilitary warriors, whom Bamako refers to as military instructors but Western nations refer to as mercenaries.
Their presence was a major role in France, Mali’s former colonial power and longtime ally, withdrawing its armed forces from the nation.
The GSIM, whose influence on the ground is growing, is made up of many jihadist factions and works mostly in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso.