An Al-Qaeda-affiliated militant group claimed to have killed four mercenaries from the Russian private security group Wagner in an ambush in central Mali, the SITE Intelligence monitoring group said Monday.
GSIM, the main militant alliance in the Sahel, said it ambushed a group of Wagner soldiers on Saturday as they rode motorcycles in the Bandiagara region from the village of Djallo towards the mountains, according to a statement by its propaganda arm authenticated by SITE.
Its fighters killed four of the group while the rest fled, the statement said.
Two local elected officials confirmed the incident to AFP, while a senior Malian army official refused to confirm or deny it.
"Four Russians were killed over the weekend by extremists near Bandiagara," one of the local officials, who requested anonymity, told AFP.
A hospital source in the region also confirmed the "death in combat of four Russians", adding that one had "passed through Mopti hospital".
Russia has become a close ally of Mali's ruling junta in its fight against a long-running extremist insurgency.
The regime has brought in Russian paramilitary fighters -- described by Bamako as military instructors but by Western nations as mercenaries -- to support the beleaguered armed forces.
Their deployment was a key factor in prompting France, Mali's former colonial power and traditional ally, to pull its military forces out of the country.
GSIM, whose influence on the ground continues to expand, includes myriad militant groups and operates mainly in Mali and neighboring Burkina Faso.