Russian mercenaries, likely with the Wagner Group, buried a dozen Malian bodies in a mass grave about 2.5 miles east of France's former Gossi military base with the goal of blaming France, a French military officer tells The Associated Press. The French military released video images taken Thursday morning showing what appear to be 10 Caucasian soldiers covering bodies with sand.
France handed the Gossi base over to Malian forces on Tuesday. Later that day, a "sensor observed a dozen Caucasian individuals, most likely belonging to the Wagner Group," and a detachment from the Malian army arrived at the burial site an unload equipment, AP reports, quoting a confidential report by the French military. Fake social media accounts tied to Russia or created by Wagner posted tweets with pictures of the bodies, blaming France, the French officer said. It's unclear where the bodies came from.
France announced in February it would be withdrawing troops it had in Mali since 2013, when they arrived to fight jihadist rebels. Mali's ruling military junta had decided to hire Wagner Group mercenaries, exacerbating tensions with the French military, AP reports.
Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at Morocco's Policy Center for the New South, said the aerial video was "a big win for France who's been facing tough times about its reputation in Mali," and "will further put Mali's junta at odds with the international community," since Mali's military must have been aware of the Wagner Group's activities. Col. Souleymane Dembele, a spokesman for Mali's army, said a team has been dispatched to investigate the Gossi site and "it is still early for us to react on this case."