Eleven soldiers were killed Monday in a "terrorist" attack on their camp in northern Mali\’s Timbuktu region, a government statement said, an assault claimed by Al-Qaeda\’s front group in the region.
Jihadist attacks have long been concentrated in Mali\’s north, but began spreading at the beginning of the year to the centre of the country, and in June to the south near the borders with Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso.
"Unidentified gunmen attacked a security post of the Mali National Guard" early Monday morning in Gourma-Rharous, an area around 140 kilometres (90 miles) east of Timbuktu, the statement said.
"The toll is 11 guards killed, one wounded," it added, condemning it as a "cowardly and barbaric terrorist act perpetuated by lawless individuals".
A local resident told AFP that they were "holed up inside" on Monday morning during the attack.
"We began leaving our homes at 7:00 am. We were afraid."
According to Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar, jihadist group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claimed responsibility for the attack.
"Our… fighters attacked at dawn the Malian army base in this village and we succeeded in killing nine soldiers," AQIM spokesman Abou Darda Al-Chinguitty said by telephone, according to the agency.
They also "destroyed four vehicles and took significant loot", the spokesman added.
The Al-Akhbar agency regularly carries jihadist statements, but by Monday evening the claim had not been reported through other channels often used by militants to announce operations.
Two Malian military sources confirmed the attack but gave a toll of 10 dead. One of the sources, however, said the attackers were believed to be "jihadist elements" linked to Islamist group Ansar Dine.