Jihadist groups dislodged from Middle East battlegrounds are reportedly regrouping in West Africa, exploiting longstanding grievances between the Dogon farmers and the Puelh-Fulani nomadic herdsmen of Mali over access to limited supplies of land and water.
This week, a militia in Dogon attire entered Ogossagou, a Fulani village and suspected jihadi hideout at about 4 a.m. and murdered over 100 men, women and children.
The mass killing took place as a delegation from the U.N. Security Council was visiting the Sahel region to assess the jihadist threat there. The victims were shot or hacked to death with machetes, a security source told the French news agency AFP.
“The U.N. Secretary-General is shocked and outraged by reports that at least 134 civilians, including women and children, have been killed,” Antonio Guterres’s spokesman Farhan Haq said in a statement, late Saturday.
It was the deadliest attack since the end of the 2013 French-led military intervention that drove back jihadist groups who had taken control of northern Mali. But the militants have since regrouped and expanded their presence into central Mali and the neighboring countries.
Last year, hundreds of people died in clashes between Dogon and members of the Fulani group.
Some 4,500 French troops remain based in the wider Sahel, most of them in Mali. The U.S. also has hundreds of troops in the region.
Early this week, the sacking of senior military officers and the dissolution of a militia was announced. Prime Minister Soumeylou Boubeye Maiga said new military chiefs would be named, and that the militia – Dan Nan Ambassagou – which translates as “hunters who trust in God”, composed of Dogon hunters, had been dissolved.
The Fulanis have also formed a self-defense group – the Alliance for the Salvation of the Sahel – for protection against armed groups, Human Rights Watch says.
Mali’s Dogon country with its dramatic cliff landscapes and world renowned traditional art once drew tourists from Europe and beyond. Homes carved into the limestone rock and the architecture led to the escarpment being declared a World Heritage Site, 30 years ago.
Meanwhile, Malian President Maiga Keita is due to visit Israel in April in a warming of relations boosted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Last month, in a talk with Jewish leaders, the Israeli prime minister declared “Israel is returning to Africa.” Relations are already restored with Chad and Guinea.