Malian jihadists claim to have captured Russia’s Wagner group fighter

Jihadists in Mali say they have captured a fighter working for Wagner, the Russian private security firm hired by the country’s military junta to train the military – though France and other countries say the fighters are acting as mercenaries.

The Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) told th Frenche AFP news agency that it had captured “a soldier of the Russian Wagner forces” in the first week of April in the Segou region in central Mali, without providing evidence to support the assertion.

The GSIM said Russian fighters had taken part in a massacre in Moura, in central Mali, at the end of March – an incident that Human Rights Watch had reported on, accusing Malian soldiers of executing 300 civilians with the help of foreign fighters.

In another operation the GSIM said “the mercenaries” carried out two parachute drops at Bandiagara in central Mali, and jihadists fighters seized weapons.

Mali’s military junta, which seized power in a coup in 2020, says it has hired Wagner to provide training to the military, and it denies claims by France and the United States that the group is taking part in fighting.

Last week an army document and officials said a “Russian advisor” operating alongside Malian soldiers had been killed by a roadside bomb in the centre of the country, marking the first confirmed Russian fatality in Mali.

On Friday the French military released videos that appeared to show Russian mercenaries burying bodies near an army base in the north of the country, which it handed back to Malian forces earlier in the week.

The military says the graves are part of a smear campaign against France, which in February pulled out troops that had been deployed in Mali to fight jihadists since 2013, citing the junta’s rapprochement with the Kremlin.

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