BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — The French army launched an airstrike against an extremist group in northeastern Mali, as part of its Operation Barkhane to “to neutralize an armed terrorist group,” it said in a statement.
“This strike was ordered after an intelligence and identification phase that made it possible to characterize the presence and regrouping of the terrorist armed group,” the army said in a statement late Thursday.
But a rebel coalition in Mali claims the strike killed at least five civilians, including minors. The Tuareg rebellion movement known as the Coordination of Movements of Azawad condemned the French airstrike and called for an international investigation.
The differing accounts could heighten already growing distrust of the French army as extremist attacks increase in the West African country.
This is not the first time that the French army has been accused of an attack that resulted in the deaths of civilians. A few weeks ago, a community group accused the French army of killing more than 10 civilians in a raid that mistakenly hit a marriage celebration in central Mali.
Islamic extremist rebels were forced from power in Mali’s northern cities with the help of a 2013 French-led military operation. However, the insurgents quickly regrouped in the desert and began launching frequent attacks on the Malian army and its allies fighting the insurgency.
The extremists have expanded their reach well into central Mali, where their presence has inflamed tensions between ethnic groups in the area.