Mali officials and citizens fear this month presidential election will be at risk from growing insecurity as deadly attacks by extremists become more brazen.
A branch of al-Qaida even set off a car bomb at the headquarters of a new West African counter-terror force late last month, further destabilizing central Mali as extremist groups expand from remote northern regions where they have had strongholds for years.
A more assertive response by Mali’s security forces has led to accusations of extrajudicial killings, while neighbors turn on each other amid suspicions of joining extremist groups. At least 289 civilians including young children have been killed in communal violence since the beginning of the year, with some burned alive in their homes or killed while hiding in mosques, the United Nations said this month.
As the July 29 elections approach, insecurity is a major issue for candidates including President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, who seeks a second term. Experts warn of a humanitarian crisis as hundreds of schools have closed out of fear of attack.
“It would be difficult to organize the elections in my commune in Mondoro, near the border between Mali and Burkina Faso,” one local official, Deputy Mayor Moulaye Ongoiba, told The Associated Press.
Extremist attacks in the region have risen over the past year, while tensions grow between ethnic Fulani Muslims and other groups such as the Dogon and Bambara who accuse the Fulani of being recruited by jihadists.
“The Malian army attacks the civilians thinking that they are complicit with the jihadists, and the jihadists attack the civilians thinking that they are complicit with the army. It’s a chaotic situation,” the 32-year-old deputy mayor said. “People are afraid of kamikazes, conflicts in the polling station or even a post-election crisis.”