A jihadist group in Mali said on Monday it had captured a fighter from the Kremlin-linked Wagner mercenary group who is believed to be fighting Islamist militants in the West African country.
“In the first week of April, (we) captured a soldier from the Russian Wagner forces in the Segou region of central Mali,” the GSIM (Support Group for Islam and Muslims) said in a statement. press release sent to AFP overnight.
This is the first time that the GSIM, an alliance linked to Al-Qaeda and the largest jihadist network in the Sahel, has announced the capture of a fighter from the Wagner group.
The United States, France and others say Russian paramilitaries in Mali are agents of the private security company Wagner, which has also been accused of abuse in the Central African Republic.
Mali’s military-dominated government denied the charges and said Russians in the country were military instructors.
The GSIM press release states that “these deadly forces participated with the Malian army in a parachute operation on a market in the village of Moura, where they confronted several mujahideen before encircling this locality for five days and killing hundreds innocent civilians”.
Russian mercenaries also carried out “two parachute operations” in central Mali, added the jihadist group, which claimed that its fighters had confiscated weapons “from mercenaries who fled”.
Large swaths of Mali are beyond government control due to the brutal conflict, which began in 2012 before spreading to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.
France, which intervened in Mali in 2013, decided in February to withdraw its forces from the country after a decade of fighting the jihadists.
The Sahel country is ruled by a military junta that seized power in a coup in 2020.
The junta initially promised to restore civilian rule, but failed to deliver on its earlier commitment to the West African bloc ECOWAS to hold elections in February this year, leading to regional sanctions.
Last month, the army-dominated government in Bamako said it had “neutralized” 203 jihadists in the central village of Moura, but witnesses interviewed by the media and Human Rights Watch said dozens of civilians had been killed.
The UN force of MINUSMA unsuccessfully asked the Malian authorities to allow it to go to Moura to investigate the events.