Eleven jihadists, 1 soldier killed in ambush in central Mali

Mali’s defense minister says one soldier and 11 extremists are dead after an ambush of security forces in a region where al-Qaida-linked fighters roam.

Sunday’s ambush in the Macina area of central Mali comes a week before the West African nation votes in a presidential election. The growing brazenness of attacks by multiple extremist groups has put the vote at risk.

In a separate incident on Friday, “armed men” attacked the village of Tindinbawen, near the border with Niger, according to a joint statement from the Imghad and Allies Tuareg Self-Defence Force (Gatia) and the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA).

The two mainly Tuareg groups support the French and Malian forces.

Mali’s unrest follows ethnic Touareg separatist uprising in 2002, which was exploited by jihadists in order to control key cities in the north.

The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

But large stretches of the country remain outside of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in 2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.

These incidents are reported as the first round of the presidential election in Mali is scheduled to take place on 29 July. President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta is seeking a second term.

More than 8 million voters are expected to go to the polls as President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta seeks a second five-year term.

Defense Minister Tièna Coulibaly says one soldier was wounded in this latest attack.

Central Mali has seen more attacks as extremist groups push farther from their usual areas in the vast north. One deadly attack recently targeted the headquarters of a new West African counterterror force.