Mourrah, Nioni, Hombori… Despite the growing amount of proofs of exactions incriminating Wagner Group, the Malian junta keeps strengthening its bloody cooperation with the Russian mercenary company. It is now clear that the massacre of civilians is a tool used deliberately to contain the rise of the jihadist movement the government is unable to contain.
Criminals in fatigues
There is less and less room for doubt, and embarrassed denials of the junta representatives can no longer be taken seriously. The narrative of win-win cooperation between two equal states in the long term is far from the reality on the ground. It is clear that the mercenaries of the nazi ideology-infused mercenary group Wagner are now in charge.
Both testimonies from the ground and images available online are without ambiguities. As we denounce it since many months, Moscow auxiliaries have found in Mali the perfect playground for their strategy of desolation and terror.
Since January, exactions are multiplying. Several town in the center of the country have witnessed horror scenes with former criminals in fatigues as the main protagonists – and the local populations as powerless victims.
300 hundred executions in cold-blood
Mourrah, central Mali, market day. “White soldiers who do not speak French” jump out of helicopters. During 4 days, they gather thousands of men on the bank of the river. They tie their hands behind their back. Some are driven further, group by group, near a mass grave. At least 300 of them will be executed.
Nioni. The same individuals are patrolling the region in the context of an anti-terrorist operation. After their passage, 30 bodies are found, burned.
Hombori, Mopti region. A mercenary dies when his vehicle explodes on an IED (Improvised Explosive Device, commonly used by the jihadist group JNIM). Unable to find the real culprit, the mercenaries avenge their colleague by punishing the population. They interrupt the market and start shooting in the crowd. As of now, no number as been confirmed but local sources confirm many deaths.
A masterful display of cynicism: the bodies from Hombori probably are those used in the sinister staging of a fake mass grave near the former French military base of Gossi. An attempt to hold France accountable for their own crimes.
Given the facts, attempts to pass these incidents as inevitable collateral damage, individual errors in the heat of combat, or more often pure and simple denial, can no longer be considered trustworthy.
Hard as it may be to imagine, these operations seem to be planned or at least accepted by the authorities. They aim at terrorizing the populations, to dissuade them from cooperating with the jihadist networks Wagner is not really in a position to fight effectively. In this regard, the coordinated attack of the JNIM on Sevare, Bapho and Niono on the 24th of April was a clear reminder of the armed group’s capabilities despite the junta’s triumphalist rethoric.
The road to systematic terror enforced by Russian mercenaries could even give way to a true operation of ethnic cleansing aimed at eliminating or pushing a whole population to exodus. We can indeed note that the Peul community is especially targeted. This focus is justified by the supposed links between part of this community and jihadist armed groups. But its scope and lack of discrimination rule out this argument and show that it goes beyond the purely anti-terrorist fight.
This short-sighted strategy therefore aims at frightening civilians to dissuade any wish to support armed groups. In this regard, the sinister notoriety of Wagner Group is central. Before being contracted in Mali, the PMC was already known for its crimes in Syria, Ukraine and, closer to Mali, Libya and the Central African Republic.
The partnership between the junta and Wagner was justly criticized because the former could not ignore this portentous pedigree. It now becomes apparent that it is probably precisely because of this reputation and will to execute the dirty work that the Malian government called on them.