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Mali: a jihadist group claims to have captured a Russian mercenary from the Wagner group

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In Mali, the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claims to have captured a Russian member of the private military company Wagner. This is the first time that this al-Qaeda-linked organization has made such an announcement.

The GSIM published a press release on this subject on the night of Sunday to Monday without, for the time being, providing evidence to attest to the veracity of this capture which would have taken place “during the first week of April”.

The presence in Mali of “mercenaries” from the private Russian group Wagner is regularly denounced by Paris and Washington, but denied by Bamako. The soldiers who have ruled Mali since 2020 say they have called on what they present as “instructors” from Russia to support their army in the anti-jihadist fight.

In its press release, the GSIM describes the Wagner group as “lethal forces” and accuses it of having “participated with the Malian army in a parachute operation in a market in the village of Moura where they faced several mujahideen before ‘surround this locality for five days and kill hundreds of innocent civilians’. The Russian member of this private group was reportedly captured “in the region of Ségou”, in central Mali, without a link with the events in Moura being clearly established.

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According to the Bamako authorities, the controversial operation carried out at the end of March by the Malian army in this village made it possible to “neutralize” 203 jihadists. But the NGO Human Rights Watch defends another version of the facts, accusing members of the Malian Armed Forces (FAMa) of having summarily executed 300 civilians, with the help of foreign fighters.

Since then, the Malian authorities have remained deaf to repeated requests from the UN mission in Mali, which wishes to go there to investigate and shed light on the events in Moura.

A deep security crisis since 2012

Concordant sources have reported the death of a Russian national in operation with Malian soldiers on April 19. This is the first confirmed death of a Russian in the context of military operations in Mali since the junta took power in 2020. According to a document from a diplomatic source consulted by AFP, almost all Malian helicopters are now piloted by Russians, assisted by Malian co-pilots.

The deployment of foreign forces in Mali has not solved the deep security crisis that the country has been going through since 2012. The military in power have moved closer to Moscow at the same time as they have turned away from France, which is militarily engaged in the country against the jihadists since 2013.

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First concentrated in the north of Mali, the jihadist violence spread towards the center and the south. The conflict then escalated with the emergence of community militias and criminal gangs. Thousands of dead, both civilians and combatants, have been counted and central Mali is now one of the main centers of the Sahelian crisis.

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