BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — A suicide attack at a U.N. camp in northern Mali killed four peacekeepers on Wednesday, the country's peacekeeping mission said, raising concerns of worsening security as government officials warn about the possible return of Islamic extremists to the region.
A vehicle exploded at the entrance of the camp in the northern town of Aguelhoc, in the Kidal region, at 3:30 p.m., according to a U.N. statement issued Wednesday evening.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the car bomb attack "in the strongest terms" and extends condolences to the families of the four Chadian soldiers who were killed and the government of Chad, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The attack also wounded 10 people who were being evacuated Wednesday — six from the U.N. and four Malian soldiers, the statement said.
"This attack will not diminish the resolve of the United Nations to support the Malian people in their efforts to achieve peace and stability for all of Mali," Ban's spokesman said.
The secretary-general called on all parties "not to be deterred by spoilers who, through their criminal acts, seek to prevent the establishment of a sustainable peace in Mali," Dujarric said.
U.N. mission chief Albert Koenders condemned the attack as "cowardly and odious."
"I am shocked that brave peacekeepers are again being targeted. This attack will not deter MINUSMA from its mission of re-establishing peace and security in Mali," Koenders said, referring to the mission by its acronym.
Northern Mali fell under control of ethnic Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention last year scattered the extremists, though the Tuaregs maintain a heavy presence in Kidal and have pushed back against the authority of the Bamako-based government.
Tensions escalated sharply last month when Prime Minister Moussa Mara visited Kidal for the first time since his appointment. In response, separatist Tuareg rebels launched an assault on government buildings in the town, killing eight soldiers, six local government officials and two others in what the government described as a "declaration of war."
Mara stayed in the army barracks before fleeing to another northern city, Gao. He said at the time that he suspected Islamic extremists had participated in the attack.
It was unclear who carried out Wednesday's attack, which came just one day after three northern Mali rebel groups signed an accord in Algiers pledging to work for peace in the region through inclusive talks.