Al Qaeda affiliate claims it killed four Russian mercenaries in Mali

(Reuters) - Al Qaeda's affiliate in Mali claimed on Monday it had killed four mercenaries from Russia's private military firm Wagner Group in an ambush around Bandiagara in central Mali.

The media unit for Jama'at Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen (JNIM), said in a statement its fighters clashed with the mercenaries on Saturday in Mopti region, according to a translation by the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist statements.

Wagner has no public representation and could not be reached for comment.

Mali is struggling to stem an Islamist insurgency that took root after a 2012 uprising and has since spread to neighbouring countries, killing thousands and displacing millions across West Africa's Sahel region.

Wagner began supplying hundreds of fighters last year to support the Malian military and has since been accused by human rights groups and local residents of participating in massacres of civilians - accusations it has not responded to.

The Russian government has acknowledged Wagner personnel are in Mali but the Malian government has described them as instructors from the Russian military rather then private security contractors.

In July, JNIM claimed responsibility for an attack on Mali's main military base, which it said was a response to governmental collaboration with Wagner.

(Reporting by David Lewis; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Grant McCool)

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