BAMAKO - Three Malian civilians were killed and around 30 people were wounded in a suicide attack late Monday in the country's violence-hit north, officials said, as a diplomat said some of the injured were sub-contractors for the U.N.
The attack took place in the city of Gao when a 4x4 vehicle blew up in a residential area, the security ministry said in a statement.
The blast was claimed by the GSIM, the main jihadist group operating in the Sahel region. It has ties to al-Qaida and was blacklisted by Washington in September.
The GSIM — the Group to Support Islam and Muslims — said the attack had targeted "invading crusader forces" in central Gao in an area "where there are British, German and Canadian troops."
A local official told AFP the fatalities were Malians who lived in the area.
The government gave an initial toll of just two injured, but a French security source told AFP on Tuesday that the number of wounded had risen to "around 30."
A Western diplomatic source also said four foreigners were among the wounded — two Cambodians, a South African and a Zimbabwean.
They were working for an organization subcontracted by the U.N.'s mine-clearing operation, UNMAS, which has a field office in the city, the source said.
The attack was condemned by the French and German defense ministers as they visited Gao on Tuesday.
"The attack last night in Gao was despicable. Once again, it is civilians who have paid for this violence with their lives," said French Defense Minister Florence Parly, echoing remarks by German counterpart Ursula von der Leyen.
Malian and international security forces have been mobilized following the "tragic incident," the security ministry said.
The French-German defense delegations had flown over to discuss Mali's troubled peace accord and plans to set up a five-nation anti-terror force in the vast, arid Sahel region.
Mali has been struggling to return to stability after Islamist extremists took control of the north in early 2012, prompting a military intervention by France.
The extremists were routed in the French operation in 2013 but large stretches of the landlocked African state remain out of government control.