2 attacks by Islamist insurgents in Mali leave 49 civilians and 15 soldiers dead, military says

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Two attacks by Islamist insurgents in the restive north of Mali on Thursday killed 49 civilians and 15 government soldiers, according to a provisional death toll given by the country’s military junta read on state television.

A passenger boat near the city of Timbuktu on the Niger river and a Malian military position in Bamba further downstream in the Gao region were targeted, according to the statement, which said the attacks have been claimed by Islamist extremist insurgent group JNIM, an umbrella coalition of armed groups aligned with al-Qaida.

The Malian government announcement said its forces, in responding to the attacks, killed some 50 assailants. Three days of national mourning to honor the civilians and troops killed begin Friday.

Timbuktu has been blockaded by armed groups since late August, when the Malian army deployed reinforcements to the region. The insurgents are preventing the desert city from being supplied with basic goods.

Over 30,000 residents have fled the city and a nearby region, according to an August report by the United Nations’ humanitarian agency.

The deadly attacks come as the U.N. prepares to withdraw its 17,000-strong peacekeeping mission MINUSMA from Mali at the government’s request. The pullout is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year.