BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A vehicle transporting a Red Cross team came under a hail of gunfire in western Mali, killing a worker for the Dutch branch and the car’s driver, the Malian and Dutch Red Cross organizations said Thursday.
Witnesses said the gunmen were riding motorcycles when they shot at the vehicle around 6 p.m. Wednesday near Kayes, the aid organization said, adding that the vehicle had been clearly marked with the group’s emblem. Two other employees survived the ambush.
“The Malian Red Cross condemns with the utmost firmness this incident, which undermines the humanitarian mission aimed at vulnerable populations,” the aid group said in a statement announcing the deaths.
“Disbelief and sadness,” the Dutch Red Cross said on Twitter. “Two Red Cross aid workers have been killed in an armed attack in Mali. One of them was an employee of the Dutch Red Cross. Our flag is at half mast. Aid workers should never be the target.”
A spokeswoman said that the Dutch Red Cross worker was not a Dutch citizen.
“This is terrible news and it touches us deeply. First of all, our thoughts go out to the family members and everyone who knew the affected aid workers,” said Marieke van Schaik, director of the Dutch Red Cross.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility though jihadis are known to operate in the vicinity.
Mali has been battling an Islamic insurgency for a decade now, and much of the country has long been considered off-limits to Westerners for security reasons. While the Kayes region has been less risky than Mali’s north, there have been growing reports of extremism spreading in the area linked to a group known as Katiba Macina.
Concerns about security in Mali have only deepened since former colonizer France announced earlier this year it is withdrawing its troops from the country after nine years of helping to fight extremists there. The country’s military is still being aided by a large U.N. peacekeeping mission that comes under frequent attack from militants.
Mali is headed by Col. Assimi Goita, who led a 2020 coup that overthrew the country’s democratically elected president. He drew further international condemnation when nine months later, he ousted the country’s civilian transitional leaders and had himself sworn in as president.
Associated Press writer Mike Corder in The Hague, Netherlands, contributed.