DAKAR Malian Islamist militant group Ansar Dine said it carried out a suicide and rocket attack on a U.N. base in Kidal, north Mali on Friday that killed six peacekeepers, the SITE Intelligence Group said.
Ansar Dine, led by Tuareg commander Iyad Ag Ghali, briefly seized the desert north alongside al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in 2012 and the two groups are involved in an intensifying insurgency that has spilled over Mali's borders.
In its statement, Ansar Dine named the suicide bomber who blew himself up with a truck bomb as Muhammad Abdullah bin Hudhayfa al-Hosni from Mauritania. Heavy weapons fire ensued.
It was not immediately clear if Ansar Dine was also responsible for an ambush on Malian soldiers near Timbuktu on Friday that killed three.
"The (Kidal) operation is a message to the Crusader invaders and all those who support them and promise to send their soldiers to us, like the German President said in his current visit to Bamako," according to the statement sent late on Friday.
Germany has pledged to send 650 soldiers to help support a U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) and President Joachim Gauck visited Mali's southern capital Bamako on Friday.
As well as U.N. peacekeepers, militant strikes have targeted hotels popular with Westerners, killing 30 in Ouagadougou in January, and Malian army checkpoints.
MINUSMA has the highest rate of casualties among active U.N. missions and many of the dead are Africans who occupy some of the most dangerous front-line positions in the north.
The six dead peacekeepers in the Kidal attack were all from neighboring Guinea, the U.N. Security Council said in a statement.
French troops, which ousted Islamist militants from northern towns in 2013, are still fighting them in north Mali and neighboring Sahel countries but casualties are rare due to superior training and equipment.
Sean Smith, Africa analyst at Verisk Maplecroft, said that the threat of attacks would remain extremely high unless France expands its force or MINUSMA changes its mandate to include counter-terror operations.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by Adrian Croft)