July 6, 2015 / 12:51 PM / 2 years ago

Islamist group Ansar Dine claims multiple attacks in Mali

NOUAKCHOTT, July 6 (Reuters) - The Malian Islamist rebel group Ansar Dine claimed it carried out a series of attacks against U.N. peacekeepers and Malian army targets in the country's capital, Bamako, and border areas near Ivory Coast and Mauritania.

Fighters from Ansar Dine allied with other Islamist fighters helped seize Mali's desert north after a Tuareg uprising in 2012 but were ousted by a French-led military operation a year later.

However, Islamist militants have intensified operations this year, attacking parts of the country's west and south previously seen as secure and raising regional fears of a spillover in violence.

A statement sent to the Mauritanian website Alakhbar, which frequently publishes messages from Islamist groups, said that Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for an attack on the western Malian town of Nara on June 27. Mali's defence ministry said 12 people were killed in the attack.

"God helped Islam's youth to carry out several actions in 2015 against the Malian army," the statement said. It was published on Sunday.

Ansar Dine also claimed responsibility for attacks in Misseni and Fakola in southern Mali in June and July, near vast mining reserves and the border with top cocoa producer Ivory Coast.

It also said it had attacked U.N. peacekeepers in Bamako, an apparent reference to a May incident where U.N. vehicles and a house were targeted.

The statement added that its two katibas, or brigades, named "Katiba Khalid Ibn Walid" and "Katiba Massina" had led the attacks.

Ansar Dine has ties to northern separatist groups through its Tuareg renegade commander, Iyad Ag Ghali. But it was excluded from a peace deal last month between Mali's government and northern armed groups that aimed to end decades of Tuareg uprisings.

The U.N. Security Council renewed its 11,000-strong Mali peacekeeping operation, MINUSMA, for a year in June in a bid to stabilise the West African country. But its peacekeepers in the north are attacked on an almost daily basis. Six were killed last week.

MINUSMA has no mandate to assist in Mali's southern region of Sikasso, where the recent attacks occurred. Ivory Coast has renewed security along its northern border with Mali, a government spokesman said last week. (Reporting by Kissima Diagana; Writing and additional reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Larry King)

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