BAMAKO (Reuters) - Mali’s main opposition leader Soumaila Cisse is being held hostage with six members of his delegation, his party said on Thursday, after they were attacked on the campaign trail in a region where jihadists often strike.
Cisse’s bodyguard was killed and two others wounded when unidentified gunmen ambushed the group on Wednesday afternoon between villages in the northern region of Timbuktu, the Union for the Republic and Democracy (URD) said.
“Cisse and the six others are in their hands,” party spokesman Demba Traore said at a briefing, citing four witnesses to the incident who were released by the assailants.
“We have not received any request for ransom.”
Militants with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State launch frequent attacks on civilian and military targets in the area, but there was no immediate claim of responsibility.
The incident came before long-delayed legislative elections, which authorities say will take place on Sunday despite the coronavirus epidemic. Mali was one of the last countries in West Africa to confirm a case, with four reported by Thursday.
The parliamentary vote was originally scheduled for 2018 but has been pushed back several times because of insecurity.
Cisse is Mali’s leading opposition figure. He lost 2013 and 2018 elections to President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
Mali’s government said it was working with the military to find the hostages. Security sources said at least one helicopter of United Nations peacekeepers was helping the search.
Reporting by Cheikh Diouara, Tiemoko Diallo, Paul Lorgerie; Additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi; Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne