By BABA AHMED
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Moussa Tolofidie didn’t think twice when nearly 100 jihadists on motorcycles gathered in his village in central Mali last week.
A peace agreement signed last year between some armed groups and the community in the Bankass area had largely held, although armed men sometimes entered the town to preach sharia to villagers. But on this Sunday in June, everything changed: the jihadists started killing people.
“They started with an old man of about 100 years old…then the sounds of guns started getting louder around me and then at one point I heard a bullet whistle behind my ear. I felt the earth turned, I lost consciousness and fell to the ground,” Tolofidie, a 28-year-old farmer, told The Associated Press by phone Friday in the city of Mopti, where he was receiving medical treatment.
“When I woke up it was dark, around midnight. There were bodies of other people on top of me. I smelled blood and things burned and heard the sounds of some people moaning again,” he said.
At least 132 people were killed in several villages in the Bankass region of central Mali in two days of attacks last weekend, according to the government, which blames the Support Group for the Islam and the Muslim jihadist rebels linked to Al-Qaeda.
The attack – the deadliest since mutinous soldiers toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita nearly two years ago – shows extremist Islamist violence is spreading from northern Mali to more central areas, analysts have said.
The conflict-ridden country has been battling extremist violence for a decade since jihadists seized major northern cities in 2012 and attempted to take control of the capital. They were repelled by a military operation led by France the following year, but have since regained ground.
The Associated Press spoke Friday with several survivors who had sought treatment at a hospital in Mopti and were from the villages of Diallassagou, Dianweli and Dessagou. People described hearing gunshots and jihadists shouting “Allahu akbar”, Arabic for “God is great”, as they ran into the forest for their lives.
The Malian government has blamed the attacks on the Support Group for Islam and Muslims, or JNIM, which is backed by al-Qaeda, although the group denied responsibility in a statement on Friday.
The United States and France have condemned the attacks and the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali (MINUSMA) issued a statement on Twitter saying the violence has caused casualties and displaced the population.
Conflict analysts say the fact that the attacks happened in an area where local peace accords have been signed could spell the end of the fragile agreements.
“The renewed tension may be linked to the expiration of these local agreements but may also be linked to the intensification of military operations by the defense forces,” said Baba Dakono, director of the Citizen Observatory on the governance and security, a local civil society. band.
Ene Damango, a mechanic from Dialassagou, fled his village when the shooting started, but said his uncle was shot in the leg and seriously injured.
“When I came back to the village. I discovered the carnage.