BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Suspected Islamic extremists are holding about 30 men from the Dogon ethnic group hostage after ambushing several public transport buses in central Mali earlier this week, a community leader said Friday.
Bocar Guindo said that armed men initially kidnapped about 40 people who had been traveling Tuesday between Koro and Bankass. The women aboard, though, were later released, he said.
While there was no immediate claim of responsibility, suspicion immediately fell on Islamic extremists who have been operating in the area for years and are known to target public transport.
Their growing presence has heightened communal tensions, with members of the Peuhl ethnic group being accused of collaborating with them. Dogon communities, meanwhile, have been targeted for allegedly supporting the Malian army's counterinsurgency efforts.
A similar attack took place in 2021, when armed men identifying themselves as jihadis took dozens of people hostage in the same part of central Mali. The hostages were released only after their families paid ransoms.
Mali's Islamic insurgency began spreading into the central part of the country after a French-led military operation ousted jihadis from power in major towns across the north in 2013.
Security concerns have only grown since a 2020 coup deposed Mali's democratically elected president. The army colonel who seized power, Assimi Goita, has sought to distance the country from its one-time international partners.
Last year, French troops left Mali after nearly a decade of helping fight exremists in the former colony. And now U.N. peacekeepers are in the process of departing at the request of the Malian junta-led government.