Mali defence minister fired after jihadists seize town

Bamako – Mali’s defence minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly was fired on Saturday, officials told AFP, a day after jihadists briefly took control of a town in the country’s centre.

A decree released by the government stated his post had been revoked after militants stepped up attacks in the country’s centre in recent months, targeting government and military installations.

A senior official in the Malian defence ministry told AFP it came following “the latest waves of insecurity in central Mali,” referring to jihadists’ seizure of the town of Boni on Friday and an attack on a central Mali military base in Nampala that killed several soldiers in July.

The Malian army on Saturday regained control of Boni, which is home to several thousand people, from the jihadists who had escaped with a local official as a hostage.

The militants fired on administrative buildings and set fire to the mayor’s office, leading the army to recall its troops from the vicinity.

Military intervention

“The jihadists left Boni in the night and today around 08:00 the Malian army came back to take control of the town,” a Malian security source told AFP.

A source close to the UN mission in the country, which is known by the acronym MINUSMA, said two helicopters were providing cover over the town, “to support the Malian army, who are now in control.”

However, an administrative source in the town said the jihadists “kidnapped a Boni community official” whom they accused of giving information to the security forces.

Ongoing international military intervention since January 2013 has driven Islamist fighters away from major urban centres which they had briefly controlled, but large tracts of Mali are still not controlled by domestic or foreign troops.

Jihadist groups early last year began to carry out attacks in central Mali as well as the long-troubled north.

Ansar Dine claimed responsibility for the July 19 attack on Nampala, in which 17 soldiers were killed, 37 were wounded and six were reported missing, according to the official toll.

Abdoulaye Idrissa Maiga, formerly land minister, was named to replace Coulibaly, according to the government statement.