12/14/2013 19:55 GMT
by Serge DANIEL
BAMAKO, December 14, 2013 (AFP) - A suicide attack on UN forces in northern Mali on Saturday killed two Senegalese soldiers in what a Malian jihadist leader said was retaliation for African countries' support of a French army operation against Islamist militants.
A car laden with explosives barrelled into the Malian Bank of Solidarity in the city of Kidal that was guarded by troops from a UN peacekeeping force known as MINUSMA.
The car "struck the main door of the bank, killing in addition to the suicide bomber two Senegalese soldiers of MINUSMA and injuring six other people," the government said in a statement.
Five sustained serious injuries -- three peacekeepers and two Malian soldiers -- and they were evacuated to Gao, the largest city of northern Mali, the statement said.
A UN official speaking on condition of anonymity put the toll of the wounded at seven peacekeepers and four Malian troops.
A Malian jihadist, Sultan Ould Badi, claimed responsibility for the attack in a telephone call to AFP, calling it payback for African countries' military support for French operations on the continent.
"I speak in the name of all the mujahedeen (fighters) in Azawad (northern Mali): this operation is a response to African countries that have sent soldiers to support (French President) Francois Hollande's battle in the land of Islam," said Badi, a well-known Islamist extremist who has belonged to several armed groups.
"We are going to respond all across Azawad and in other lands... with other operations against France's crusades," he told AFP.
Hollande sent condolences to his Senegalese counterpart Macky Sall, saying "this odious act cannot remain without a response. France will stand by you to identify and arrest those who ordered this terrorist attack."
The blast came on the eve of a second round of legislative elections aimed at returning constitutional order to Mali after a March 2012 coup threw the country into chaos.
Badi, a member of northern Mali's Arab and Tuareg minority groups, rose to prominence kidnapping European hostages in the region and selling them on to armed Islamist groups.
He later joined Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and was close to one of the group's top commanders, Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, who was killed fighting the French army in northern Mali in late February.
Afterwards Badi joined another Al-Qaeda-linked group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), before launching his own small radical group.
He acts as an intermediary between the various jihadist groups operating in northern Mali, according to a Malian security source.
Also Saturday, Seyba Diarra, the right-hand man of coup leader Amadou Sanogo, was detained on charges of assassination, judicial sources told AFP.
Sources close to the investigation said Diarra promised to "cooperate frankly" with investigators to shed light on a mass grave containing 21 bodies discovered on December 4 near the capital, Bamako.
The dead were thought to be "red berets" loyal to the president overthrown in the coup, Amadou Toumani Toure.
The discovery of the mass grave came one week after Sanogo's arrest and detention, after which about 15 mainly military aides were also arrested.
The government said that "for now" Sanogo was charged with involvement in a kidnapping, but a source close to judge Yaya Karembe has said he faces charges including murder.
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