DAKAR (Reuters) - A Mali-based al Qaeda affiliate said a landmine it planted that killed 14 civilians when it exploded under a passenger bus was intended to target French troops.
Around 60 people were in the vehicle when it hit the landmine on Sept. 3 as it drove through a region in central Mali that has become a haven for Islamist militants despite a five-year-old French military operation to counter them.
Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) - an umbrella group for al Qaeda-linked militants in West Africa and the Maghreb - said it had not intended to attack the bus and offered its condolences and sympathy to the relatives of those killed.
“With deep sadness and grief, we received news about the killing of a group of our brothers and children,” it said via its media arm, according to U.S.-based SITE, which monitors jihadist websites.
“This came as the result of the detonation of a landmine the mujahideen had planted for patrols of the French occupation,” it said in the statement.
At least 24 civilians were wounded in the attack in addition to the 14 dead, according to the Malian authorities.
Violence by Islamist militants has proliferated in the sparsely populated Sahel in recent years, with groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State using central and northern Mali as a launchpad for attacks across the region.
Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Toby Chopra