BAMAKO, Jan 6- At least eight people were killed in a gun attack Monday on a Malian army base close to the Mauritanian border, a UN military source said.
The assault, claimed in one report by Al Qaeda linked militants, took place at the base in Nampala near the border with Mauritania, where armed groups operate.
Gunmen slipped into the camp in the morning and opened fire, a source in the UN’s MINUSMA mission in the country told AFP.
At least eight people died n the attack, the military source said, a figure echoed by a Malian who escaped the scene.
“For now I cannot say who the dead were. They were all wearing military fatigues,” another military source said, adding that two injured Malian soldiers were being treated in the home of the town’s mayor.
The Mauritanian news agency Al Akhbar cited sources from Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) claiming responsibility for the attack.
“We have occupied Nampala without a major combat. We have killed Malian soldiers and we are holding others,” the sources said, without giving figures.
The UN source said unidentified fighters managed to get into the camp “with relative ease” at about 0615 GMT and started shooting, with Malian troops returning fire.
Fighting went on for more than three and a half hours, with the attackers only retreating at 1100 GMT.
“Reconnaissance and fighter planes from the French led Barkhane (security) operation overflew the Nampala area in the afternoon to intervene if necessary,” the UN source added, in comments confirmed by French and Malian sources.
The attack is the deadliest in Mali since nine Niger peacekeepers were killed last October.
– Situation ‘under control’ –
A defence ministry spokesman confirmed the fighting in Nampala, 530 kilometres (330 miles) northeast of the Malian capital Bamako.
“Our positions were attacked early this morning we confronted the enemy and reinforcements are now being sent from a neighbouring area to Nampala,” he said.
“The terrorists have left the Nampala region,” the Malian army announced, saying the situation was “under control”.
Elsewhere, six soldiers from Niger serving in the UN’s MINUSMA mission were injured in the northeast on Sunday, with gunmen also burning four UN trucks.
Guinean President Alpha Conde, who currently heads the African Union, called it a “very serious” attack, as he hosted his Mauritanian counterpart Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.
Both leaders telephoned Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to offer their solidarity, Conde said, adding that the situation in the region was a result of the chaos in Libya since the fall of the regime of Moamer Kadhafi in 2011.
A Malian man who managed to escape the fighting in Nampala by car said the attackers on Monday had hoisted black flags at official buildings and chanted Islamic slogans.
A lorry driver, who also got out unscathed, told him the had seen seven bodies “and an eighth dying” and that many Malian solders had fled the fighting, he added.
A French led military operation halted a jihadist takeover of the desert north of the vast west African country in January 2013, but sporadic attacks have continued.
France has kept 1,000 troops in northern Mali as part of a wider counter terrorism operation.
The new operation, called Barkhane, is taking place across Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad and involves a total 3,000 French troops as well as soldiers from neighbouring states.