Members of Katiba Macina group raided at least three villages in rural commune of Bankass, in West African country's central Mopti region, on night between Saturday and Sunday, government statement says, carrying systematic killings of civilians.
Militants have killed 132 civilians in multiple attacks on villages in central Mali over the weekend, the government said, in the latest major incident in a worsening security situation in the landlocked West African country.
Members of the Katiba Macina group assaulted at least three villages in the rural commune of Bankass, in Mali's central Mopti region, on the night between Saturday and Sunday, the government said in a statement on Monday.
The cumulative death toll is of 132 civilians and some of the perpetrators have been identified, it added.
Local officials reported scenes of systematic killings by armed men in Diallassagou and two surrounding towns in the Bankass circle, a longtime hotbed of Sahelian violence.
"They have also been burning huts, houses, and stealing cattle –– it's really a free-for-all," said a local official who for security reasons spoke on the condition of anonymity.
He and another official, who like him had fled his village, said the death toll was still being counted on Monday.
Nouhoum Togo, head of a party in Bankass, the main town in the area, said the toll was even higher than the 132 announced by the government, which has blamed Al Qaeda-affiliated militants for the killings.
READ MORE: Militants blamed for killing civilians in northern Mali
Mali is struggling to stem a militant insurgency that took root after a 2012 coup and has since spread from the West African country's arid north.
Thousands have died and millions have been displaced across the Sahel region.
Some of the groups have links to Al Qaeda and Daesh terror group.
The insurgency has also spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger despite international efforts led by France to quash it.
France in February said it would pull out troops deployed to Mali almost a decade ago after relations with a military junta that took power after a coup in August 2020 turned sour earlier this year.
READ MORE: French withdrawal from Mali: a threat or opportunity for regional security?