A Malian soldier runs for cover as he fights after clashes erupted in the city of Gao in 2013. The hotel attack was the third assault in just a week in Mali, which is still struggling to restore stability despite a landmark peace deal agreed in JuneA Malian soldier runs for cover as he fights after clashes erupted in the city of Gao in 2013. The hotel attack was the third assault in just a week in Mali, which is still struggling to restore stability despite a landmark peace deal agreed in June (AFP Photo/Frederic Lafargue)
Bamako (AFP) - Eleven soldiers were killed Monday in a "terrorist" attack on their camp in northern Mali's Timbuktu region, said a government statement.
"The toll is 11 guards killed, one wounded," the statement said, condemning it as a "cowardly and barbaric terrorist act perpetuated by lawless individuals".
According to Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar, jihadist group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has claimed responsibility for the attack in Gourma-Rharous.
"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. This claim had not been reported by Monday evening through the other usual jihadist channels.
The attack comes two days after two Malian soldiers were killed and four others injured in an ambush in the centre of the west African country.
Earlier on Monday another military source confirmed the ambush, saying it had targeted a unit of the National Guard based in Gourma-Rharous and left around 10 men dead.
The source said the attackers were believed to be "jihadist elements" linked to Islamist group Ansar Dine.
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 (0700 GMT). We were afraid."
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.
The north came under the control of Ansar Dine -- which is Arabic for Defenders of Faith -- and two other jihadist groups, AQIM and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, in April 2012.
A move south towards the capital by the extremists, who imposed a brutal version of sharia law on inhabitants, prompted Mali's former colonial master France to intervene in January 2013, pounding their positions in the north.
While their organisational structure has been smashed, small pockets of armed Islamists managed to remain active, and continue to carry out occasional deadly attacks in the desert.
Monday's attack is Mali's second deadliest in a month, after six UN peacekeepers from Burkina Faso were killed at the beginning of July in an assault claimed by AQIM.