Senegalese UNPOL Officers patrol the streets of Gao, northern Mali, in August 2013.

(Bamako) – The Malian government should act to curtail rising violent crime and abuses by armed groups and state security forces that threaten the security of the population in northern and central Mali, Human Rights Watch said today. Two years after a French-led military intervention in the embattled country, there remains widespread lawlessness and insecurity.

In the north, a brief renewal of fighting in mid-2014 provoked the withdrawal of Malian soldiers and civil servants, including judicial officers. This left large swaths of territory devoid of state authority in which Tuareg separatists, Islamist armed groups, pro-government militias, and bandits have committed abuses with impunity. Since January 2015, a new Islamist armed group has committed a spate of attacks against civilians in central Mali.

“Rampant criminality and attacks by armed groups and abuses by the security forces are putting ordinary people in central and northern Mali at risk,” said Corinne Dufka, West Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “Armed groups need to stop their abuses and Mali’s government should take urgent steps to reverse this trend, which threatens the security and rule-of-law gains of the past two years.”

Over two weeks in February and March, Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with over 150 victims and witnesses in the northern town of Gao and in the capital, Bamako, including with drivers, traders, shepherds, and bandits; detainees; local government, security, and Justice Ministry officials; aid workers; victims’ groups; diplomats and United Nations officials; and religious, youth, and community leaders. Human Rights Watch’s findings build on research conducted in the country since 2012.

Human Rights Watch found an upsurge in violent crime since mid-2014 by criminal bands and armed groups in the north, with little or no government response. Animal herders said that armed men on motorcycles have driven off entire herds of livestock, while petty traders described being ambushed and robbed on their way to local village markets. Truck drivers described being stopped by armed men, some well-organized, who robbed vehicles, drivers, and passengers, and, on several occasions, killed drivers and set their vehicles on fire.

In central Mali, an Islamist armed group sometimes referred to as the Macina Liberation Movement, has committed serious abuses in the course of military operations against Mali’s security forces. The attackers summarily executed at least five men believed to have worked as guides or to have provided information for the army.

Witnesses described how fighters with this group dragged a chief of a village near Dioura from his home and executed him, and gunned down another man on a village market day near Nampala. The group also burned several local government buildings and downed a communication tower. In public meetings and flyers distributed in towns and villages, the group threatened the local population with death if they collaborated with French forces, the government, or the UN peacekeeping mission.

The Malian army and other security forces have responded to the attacks with military operations that have resulted in torture and other mistreatment, theft, and allegations of arbitrary arrest, numerous victims and witnesses told Human Rights Watch.

A Quranic teacher in his late 60s showed Human Rights Watch his bloodstained robe and said that soldiers had beaten him in detention: “From the moment I was arrested in my field, I was mistreated … in the truck, and in the camp – they [the soldiers] kicked and pummeled me, and forced 18 of us to drink urine. On account of the beating, I passed blood for several days.”

In the north, armed groups have deliberately targeted UN peacekeepers mandated to protect civilians. Attacks against the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) have escalated since mid-2014; since MINUSMA was created in July 2013, it has been the target of at least 79 hostile attacks, in which 35 peacekeepers have been killed and more than 130 wounded. Islamist armed groups have taken responsibility for many of these attacks.

Bandits, and in a few cases armed groups, have attacked at least 13 vehicles of humanitarian aid organizations since November 2014, seriously undermining their ability to deliver assistance to populations in need. The motive for most of the banditry attacks appeared to be theft.

Numerous people described the use of child soldiers, some as young as 12, by rebel groups, and to a much lesser extent, by pro-government militias. Armed groups in Mali are prohibited under international law from recruiting or using in hostilities children under 18.

The government should work with MINUSMA to provide better security for civilians outside major towns, especially on market days, such as by increasing patrols, Human Rights Watch said. The government should also investigate and prosecute members of the security and pro-government forces and non-state armed groups implicated in recent serious abuses and accelerate deployment of police, gendarmes, and Justice Ministry personnel to towns and villages in the north. Armed groups should halt their abuses and threats against civilians and humanitarian workers.

“Mali is awash with arms and bandits, and the pace of attacks is intensifying,” Dufka said. “The Malian government needs to re-establish its presence in the north so everyone has the basic security needed to go on with their lives.”

Killings and Threats by Islamist Armed Group in Central Mali
Since January 2015, an Islamist armed group has attacked several towns and villages in the central regions of Mopti and Ségou. Towns that have come under attack include Nampala, Tenenkou, Dioura, Boulkessi, Gathi-Lemou, and Dogofry.

Witnesses told Human Rights Watch that the vast majority of its fighters appeared to be ethnic Peuhl from an Islamist armed group allied to either the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) or Ansar Dine. A few said they heard the armed men refer to themselves as the Macina Liberation Movement (La Force de libération du Macina), a reference to a region in central Mali.

This new area of operation for an Islamist armed group has generated considerable fear among the population and led to the flight of numerous local government officials including administrators, mayors, chiefs, teachers, and judges. A local mayor said:

My people are afraid; these armed men move through the villages all the time trying to recruit our youth and turn us to their religion. Even yesterday people called me in alarm to say the jihadists had come because God had directed them to this or that village. My people feel under pressure from all sides – if they tell the army, they will be executed as informants; if they don’t, the army will think they are collaborators.

Most of the group’s attacks targeted the security forces. However, Human Rights Watch documented the execution-style killing of five men and threats against several others. Local residents and administrators said they believed that the people executed had at some point worked as local guides or informants for the security services.

There have been numerous other killings of alleged informants by Islamist armed groups elsewhere in the north. The human rights section of MINUSMA documented over 10 such killings in 2014. Most recently, credible sources reported that on March 19, 2015, in the Timbuktu region, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Mahgreb (AQIM) killed and then decapitated an ethnic Tuareg man accused of collaborating with French forces.

An elderly Peuhl herder described the January 14 execution of a middle-aged man in the town of Tolladji, 17 kilometers east of Nampala:

It was about 3 p.m. on market day. I was selling my animals. They arrived on two motorcycles – two armed jihadists on each – and went straight for a petrol vender named M’barré Dembélé. It was like he knew they were after him because as they arrived, he started running. One of the jihadists jumped down and ran after him. M’barré threw his arms around an older man, saying “please, save me,” but the jihadist went straight up and shot M’barré in the side, then again in the head after he fell down. The jihadist, who was speaking our language [Pulaar] turned to the older man and asked if he was ok. They fired in the air to disperse those who had gathered, then drove off. They were dressed in grey – in short pants and turbans. They didn’t steal anything; it was M’barré they were after.

Two residents of the village of Wouro Tiéllo said that a local chief named Nouhoum Diall was killed on January 7. Armed Islamists summoned him out of his house at night and dragged him 200 meters. One explained why he believed Diall had been targeted:

Many of the youth in this movement are the sons of our own villages – we know them. They joined MUJAO in 2012 and are now part of a new movement. The village chief didn’t like what was happening and, being a local authority, informed the army that they had been passing through. These people wanted Nouhoum to push their own version of Islam, but he refused. That is why they killed him.

A local official from the region explained what appeared to be a campaign of fear to empty the area of state officials and those considered close to the military:

These people burned the mayor’s building, destroying the birth and marriage certificates – and since the attack they’ve gone to the houses of the mayor, his deputy, people who have helped out the military, and those who don’t like their version of Islam and told them to leave, lest they be killed. One man told me in early February, the jihadists arrived on two motos [motorbikes] and fired several rounds into his door, yelling for him to leave. He was cowering inside with his family; he got the message and immediately fled. He is now in hiding. And he isn’t the only one this has happened to.

Abuses by Malian Security Forces and Pro-Government Groups
Human Rights Watch interviewed 34 men who had been detained by the security forces in the course of operations in northern and central Mali from December 2014 to late February 2015. The majority were ethnic Peuhl detained in central Mali in reaction to recent attacks there.

The detainees described numerous incidents of mistreatment including physical and psychological abuse – notably death threats, torture, and denial of food, water, and medical care. The most frequent and serious abuse was meted out by army soldiers, and occurred in the first few days after they were detained. Most detainees said the abuse stopped after they were handed over to gendarmes.

Eleven men showed Human Rights Watch physical signs of mistreatment, including scars on their heads, faces, wrists, legs, and chests. A 32-year-old herder said the beating by soldiers resulted in the loss of a tooth. A 45-year-old leather worker who had visible scars above his right eye said: “They [the soldiers] kicked me in the head and side. My eyes were covered with my turban but I felt the blood flowing down my chest for a long time.”

In one case, soldiers from the Nampala army base allegedly committed serious abuses against 18 detainees held over two days in late January or early February. From the moment of their arrest from several surrounding villages, the men described being kicked, beaten, pummeled with rifle butts, and, during one night, forced to drink urine and threatened with death.

A 31-year-old man with a 2-inch scar on the back of his head described what happened to the detainees:

We were all in one cell, seated with our hands bound and eyes banded. They [the soldiers] came in every so often and kicked and whapped us so many times. They said, “You are rebels … we will take you out this night and kill all of you.” At one point we heard them urinating in a bottle in front of our cell; they came inside, positioned themselves on either side of each of us, and forced us to drink it … those who refused were beaten, and forced, by holding our heads back, to drink … others had it poured into their noses. Later, they threw dirty water on us, and throughout the night walked around the cell beating and insulting us.

Two Tuareg men, ages 25 and 27, described being detained in a private house in Gao in mid-February by the pro-government Self-Defence Group of Imrad Touareg and Allies (Le Groupe autodéfense touareg Imghad et allies, GATIA) militia, who accused them of selling ammunition to armed groups in the north. The Tuareg men said the militiamen stole a cell phone and money before handing them over to soldiers the detainees identified as elite Red Berets. They said the soldiers severely mistreated them overnight inside the Gao military base of Camp Firoun, then handed them over to gendarmes. The men’s hands had deep scars on the wrists from the tight cords, and were still swollen when Human Rights Watch interviewed them two weeks later. One of the men said:

The soldiers bound our hands and feet tightly behind our backs – hogtied us – with electric wire, so tightly it cut deep through our skin. They left us on the floor in a room like this from 9 p.m. until 9 a.m. the next morning. They beat and kicked us. We cried out for water to drink but instead they threw water over us saying, “The mosquitos will eat you nicely tonight.”

A 31-year-old Peuhl herder told Human Rights Watch in a hospital that in late 2014, he and about 30 other Peuhl men accused of supporting Islamist rebels were taken from a village west of Douentza, and ordered by the National Guard to lie down on top of one another in the back of two pickup trucks. His legs had been severely injured and burned from the weight of the other detainees and a metal chain on which he had been ordered to lie. The national guardsmen beat him and the others for several hours in a base in Mondoro.

At least 11 other detainees were mistreated by a group of gendarmes in Sévaré. Two detainees said the gendarmes briefly beat or slapped the detainees and then “ordered [the detainees] to beat and punch each other for several minutes.”

Several men said that as they were detained, soldiers and sometimes gendarmes robbed them of money, cellphones, jewelry, and other belongings. One elderly man arrested by soldiers in a village near Niono, said soldiers had stolen over 1.2 million CFA (US$1,990) from his home.

Human Rights Watch interviews with scores of detained men accused of supporting armed groups in 2013 and 2014 found that virtually everyone taken into custody by the Malian security services had been beaten and that many were badly mistreated. In contrast, of the 34 detainees Human Rights Watch interviewed in 2015 in Bamako, only about half said that they had been mistreated in custody.

Use of Child Soldiers by Armed Groups in the North
Numerous traders, herders, businessmen, and residents of villages and towns under the control of armed groups in the north described the use of child soldiers, some as young as 12, by the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), the High Council for the Unity of Azawad (HCUA), and factions of the Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA). A man detained in early February said that among his captors from a pro-government militia were two unarmed children about age 15. Two children, ages 14 and 15, were among a group of eight arrested by gendarmes in late March in connection with the March 23 explosion that destroyed a house in Gao allegedly used to construct improvised explosive devices.

A dozen people described seeing child combatants staffing checkpoints and sitting around with older combatants in and around the towns of Djebock, Ménaka, Imnaguel, Adran Tikilite, Tinabacor, Anafis, Inalabrabya, and Tinfadimata in the Gao and Kidal regions. They said most children were either of Arab or Tuareg ethnicity.

A driver who regularly transports goods from Gao to Anafis said, “Last time I was there, I saw at least five of them, the youngest about 15.” A trader who travels frequently to Djebock said, “Even last Sunday, I saw five of these youth … 13, 14, 15.” A herder grazing his sheep near Djebock said: “Kids? I see them all the time … there are fewer than during the 2012 war, but they’re still there.”

Several people said older combatants hid the presence of children in their ranks from international aid groups and the UN. A civil servant in Ménaka’s account was typical:

The kids are there, even a few days ago, on February 28, I saw several of them manning a checkpoint; one was about 13 and so young his gun was dragging. But every time foreigners, MINUSMA, or aid agency people come, they yell at them to run, hide behind a building, and get out of sight. But we know the kids are there!

UN sources told Human Rights Watch that about 10 schools in the Gao, Timbuktu, and Kidal regions are occupied by members of armed groups.

Unchecked Criminality in the North
While banditry and other violent crime has long been a problem in northern Mali, residents, members of the security forces, and community leaders said it had become particularly acute since mid-2014, after state security forces stopped patrolling.

The government has obligations to ensure that all Malians have security and that their rights are respected. International law recognizes state accountability for failing to protect people from rights abuses and violence by private actors. The UN Human Rights Committee says that a state must not only protect individuals against violations of rights by government officials, but also against abusive acts by private persons or entities. In fact, a government may be violating human rights by failing to protect the population, including by failing to take appropriate measures “to prevent, punish, investigate or redress the harm caused by such acts by private persons or entities.”

In Gao, Human Rights Watch spoke with about 50 victims and witnesses to recent incidents of banditry by criminals and armed groups in the north including drivers, transport owners, passengers, petty traders, animal herders, and merchants. The attacks were concentrated on market days and along several key strips of highway and overland routes used by traders.

An administrator in the public hospital in Gao said that since May 2014, “the number of wounded from banditry has dramatically increased,” noting that the hospital had treated at least 10 people from banditry incidents over the previous three months. Witnesses and local community leaders said they knew of several people killed in banditry incidents.

Most attacks were by small groups of men using motorcycles and armed with military assault rifles. Several victims, however, described attacks as “operations” involving larger groups of uniformed or partly uniformed men armed with rifles and rocket-propelled grenades and in pickup trucks with large, mounted machine guns. These attackers usually mentioned a political motive such as targeting MINUSMA forces, or the intention to establish a separatist state known as Azawad.

Victims and witnesses believed many of the attackers were current or former fighters with one of several armed groups operating in the north. They believed they had been emboldened by a depleted state security presence and a dysfunctional justice system. The vast majority of attackers were described as young men of Tuareg, Arab – and to a lesser extent, Peuhl – ethnicity.

Organized Theft of Animals
Human Rights Watch spoke with 10 herders whose cattle, sheep, goats, and camels had been stolen since July 2014; a local human rights group said it had documented numerous other cases. The herders described a modus operandi in which several men on motorcycles drive into the grazing area shooting into the air to frighten the animals, then corral and drive them off with their motorcycles. Some believed their animals were then herded into trucks waiting some kilometers away.

One herder described an “operation” in December involving two truckloads of uniformed men who tied his hands, wound his turban around his eyes, and forced him to the ground as they drove off his 70 sheep and 20 cows. The incident occurred 25 kilometers north of Djebock in an area the victim and several witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch believed was controlled by the MNLA. Human Rights Watch could not confirm if the group was responsible, however.

The herder said: “There were many soldiers. Their pickups had big 2-7 machine guns … they said the animals were theirs because I was in their zone, Azawad. My animals were everything to me … since then I have been forced to live in this town [Gao] where I have nothing.”

The other herders, all from the Bellah and Peuhl ethnic groups, described the devastating effect the loss of their animals has on their ability to provide for their families. Most described searching for their animals in markets in Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso. One herder and his father, whose 11 cows were stolen in mid-February 2015 near Tinassemed, some 55 kilometers from Gao, described his loss:

Each cow is worth at least 250,000 CFA ($415) … my father has gone crazy with anger and frustration … he’s spent weeks trudging from market to market following rumors of our cows sighted here and there. He’s still out there looking for them. In each market we listen for their bray … we know what each sounds like. My friends tell us to drop it; that the bandits will kill us. My hope is to negotiate with the local boss of the MNLA … there are good people in every organization; maybe we can get at least a few back.”

A 43-year-old herder whose entire herd of over 100 goats was stolen in July 2014 about 80 kilometers south of Gao said:

They took every last one. I worked my entire life to have a flock of that size. I followed the animal and moto tracks for hours, and looked everywhere in vain. It was with my animals that I fed and clothed my family of 12, but now I’m left with but two donkeys to fetch water. For us, losing your animals is akin to losing your future and that of your family. Now, I am nothing.

Robbery of Traders
Traders who travel from village to village buying and selling their wares described frequent and, in their view, rising incidents of banditry costing them money or their motorcycles. A representative of the Gao chapter of the Malian Association of Human Rights said he had documented 52 cases of banditry, most targeting small traders, in the first two months of 2015. By comparison, he documented 100 cases in all of 2014.

Several traders said they had been robbed several times in the past year. A young man said he was robbed in December and again in January 2015, when four armed men dressed in mixed camouflage and civilian attire forced him and a friend to stop 70 kilometers from Gao on the road back from the Amasarakate market, and stole their money and motorcycles:

My friend and I went to market on two brand new motorcycles. We sold one and I collected a debt owed to me of 450,000 CFA [$745] but on our way back, we were ambushed; they beat us, laughing as they stole the bike and found the money in my pocket saying, “Azawad 1, Mali zero” like it was a football game. But it’s not a joke; it’s my life. Instead of getting ahead, I’m now heavily in debt.

Two other traders who were robbed on January 5, about 35 kilometers from Djebock, and lost 2.2 million CFA ($3,650) and 1.5 million CFA ($2490) said: “We’re demoralized. We work and work to have a future, maybe even a family of our own, but we feel abandoned by the state to the men with turbans and guns. Honestly, what can we do?”

Banditry on Transport Vehicles
Nearly 20 drivers and transport company owners in Gao told Human Rights Watch that the number of banditry attacks had increased in frequency and violence since mid-2014 after the state security forces had decreased patrols along major highways. Many drivers said they had been the victims of up to five attacks, while a transport company owner with 15 trucks said, “One [of my trucks] hit a landmine, another has been torched, and I’ve lost count of how many times my trucks have been hit by bandits.” Several said bandits had previously not shot at vehicles to force them to stop, but that it is becoming more common.

Outside the Gao region, local newspapers monitored by Human Rights Watch reported numerous other incidents of banditry in the Timbuktu and Ségou regions.

Drivers said the bandit attacks were typically by small groups of men armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, who fired in the air to force drivers to stop, and then proceeded to rob the vehicle and the many passengers who typically use transport vehicles as public transport, of money and goods. These goods would then be loaded onto a waiting truck. Victims said the bandits, who at times kept them for hours at a time, did not appear to feel concerned that they might be stopped.

A driver transporting goods from Algeria said he was stopped 140 kilometers from Kidal in late February 2015 by four armed men in a land cruiser. After forcing him to drive off the main road, “they held us from 5 a.m. until 4 p.m., taking their time to unload all our goods … tea, fabric, fruit, even motorcycles, we were bringing. We’re disappointed in our own soldiers and gendarmes. MINUSMA is trying but they can’t do everything.”

Another driver described how in August 2014, armed men stopped four large transport trucks and murdered one of his colleagues. “After lining us up, the bandits who spoke Arabic and Tamashek counted us – one, two, three, and four, and then just shot the Tuareg driver in the fourth position,” he said. “They stole everything from us, and drove off in his vehicle.”

The drivers said the security forces had not provided regular and adequate patrols to prevent attacks, or to investigate and bring those responsible to account. Transport owners had filed reports with the gendarmerie primarily to facilitate reimbursement for losses from their insurance company. None said the incidents had been credibly investigated by gendarmes, and many, like this driver, said they felt “abandoned” by the state:

We’re on our own out there. There is no army to defend us, the gendarmes don’t go beyond the city limit. There are so many armed groups we don’t know who is who. MINUSMA guard mostly themselves…. Our trucks get burned, we lose money to extortion left and right. As we get in our trucks and hit the road, it is only God who protects us and brings us home safely.

Extortion at Checkpoints
Drivers, businessmen, and residents in Gao interviewed by Human Rights Watch complained of being forced to pay money at checkpoints manned by armed groups and, to a lesser extent, government security forces. They described the extortion by the armed groups as being more systematic and organized, with set fees to enter and exit all major towns and many villages. In contrast, extortion by the police, gendarmes, and soldiers was more informal, with different amounts asked, and less frequently. Receipts were rarely provided, and drivers said that failure to pay would result in being beaten, detained, or, as described by one driver, “hours if not days of wasted time we can’t afford.”

Drivers of large transport trucks were typically asked to pay from 5000 to 10,000 CFA ($8.30 to $16.60) at each major checkpoint. Four transport company owners and three drivers bringing goods from Gao to the northern towns said the extortion placed a heavy economic toll on them. Drivers transporting food and other goods from Gao to Agelhouk said they each pay a total of 120,000 CFA ($200) at eight checkpoints controlled by several different armed groups and one state-backed militia.

Attacks on MINUSMA
Peacekeepers with MINUSMA have been deployed in Mali since July 2013 and mandated to protect civilians and create conditions conducive to the delivery of humanitarian assistance. The peacekeepers have come under frequent attack and as a result have suffered heavy casualties: 35 killed and over 130 wounded. MUJAO, AQIM, and Al Mourabitoune have claimed responsibility for many of these attacks.

While a few deaths occurred when MINUSMA bases close to bases for the Malian army or French troops came under attack, the vast majority of attacks and resulting casualties took place when MINUSMA was on patrol or was escorting convoys carrying fuel, food, medicine, and other supplies. In most cases, peacekeepers appeared to have been deliberately targeted. 

The single most deadly incident against peacekeepers in Mali – an October 3, 2014 ambush that killed nine peacekeepers from Niger – targeted a patrol taking gasoline from Ménaka to Ansongo. A September 18 attack that killed five Chadian peacekeepers targeted a convoy of troops rotating out of their base in Agelhouk. Chadian peacekeepers have been most heavily affected, with 19 deaths.

Since late 2014, armed men have been burning commercial cars and trucks, including several transporting food and gasoline for MINUSMA, and two used for humanitarian assistance. A gendarme in Gao said that since January 2015 at least six vehicles had been burned, in some cases even before the contents were looted. He characterized the attacks as “acts of sabotage.”

Several witnesses said attacks on their vehicles appeared to be well-organized military operations. The driver of a truck bringing supplies to the MINUSMA base in Agelhouk in late 2014 described one such attack:

Fifteen kilometers before Agelhouk, men suddenly fired at my tires, forcing me to stop. I saw a land cruiser with a mounted rocket launcher and one guy I saw giving orders; eight men on the ridge and a motorcycle with three armed men carrying jerry cans of petrol. They were speaking Arabic…. They took out petrol, poured it over the car, and set it on fire. They didn’t steal the contents, or ask any questions. They knew what they wanted to do.

A driver of a truck bringing food and supplies to a MINUSMA base described another well-organized attack in early 2015:

About 55 kilometers before Ménaka, the men jumped out and shot to force me to stop. They ordered my apprentices and me to lie face ground on the side of the road. Then they sprayed petrol on the truck and without saying anything, threw a few small bombs to set it alight. All that stuff in our truck but they didn’t steal anything.

Attacks on Humanitarian Workers
Bandits and armed groups have increasingly attacked the vehicles of humanitarian agencies, particularly in the north, but more recently around Tenenkou, in Mopti region, affecting aid deliveries. Aid workers said the motive for most attacks appeared to be theft. Since November 2014, there have been at least 13 attacks on humanitarian vehicles in the north during which aid workers were robbed, or their vehicles stolen or burned. Generalized insecurity and these attacks have made it increasingly difficult for humanitarian organizations to carry out their health, nutrition, education, and other programs. Aid workers told Human Rights Watch that assistance to thousands of beneficiaries has been undermined by the rising insecurity and lack of consistent access by humanitarian workers to communities in need.

A few incidents have led to deaths. In late May, two aid workers with the Norwegian Refugee Council were killed when their vehicle struck an improvised explosive device near Timbuktu. On March 30, a driver with the International Committee of Red Cross (ICRC) was killed and a colleague wounded in an ambush between Gao and Ansongo. The ICRC said in a statement that they were heading to Niger to collect medication for the Gao hospital in a truck clearly marked with the Red Cross emblem. The Islamist armed group MUJAO claimed responsibility for the attack.