In apparent retaliation for the recent arrest of senior rebel commanders, gunmen assaulted many villages in northern Mali, “shooting at anything that moved” and murdering at least 51 people, according to police.

The most recent violence occurred in a sensitive area between the frontiers of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, where ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda terrorists are active. According to a note received by the Reuters’ news agency from the Asongo district administrator to the governor of the Gao area, buildings were plundered and burned to the ground, and herds of cattle were taken away.

The note stated, “Provisional toll 51 killed, several others injured.” No one has claimed responsibility for the attacks yet. Colonel Souleymane Dembele, Mali’s army spokesman, confirmed the attacks on Monday, but gave no other details.

According to local official Oumar Cisse, the attackers arrived in the settlements of Ouatagouna and Karou at 6 p.m. local time (18:00 GMT) on Sunday. He told The Associated Press that “the majority of the victims were in front of their homes; some were going to the mosque.” “20 civilians were massacred in Karou,” a local official told the AFP news agency, declining to be identified for security concerns.

In Ouatagouna, fourteen civilians were killed, and others were slaughtered in the hamlet of Daoutegeft.” The intruders arrived at a motorcycle, surprising the people, according to the official. Residents of Ouattagouna and Karou had denounced two rebel leaders seized by the Malian army a week before the attack.

According to Ahmed Idris of Al Jazeera, the 51 deaths from Abuja, Nigeria’s capital, are tentative, and officials have suggested the death toll could rise. According to Idris, families have also requested security protection to pick up and bury their dead. “There have been countless attacks in these locations since the beginning of the year, and things appear to be growing worse and worse.”

For years, rebel militants have posed a threat in the area. In 2012, fighters took control of northern Mali for the first time. Although the rebels were pushed out of the towns by a French-led military operation the following year, they soon reassembled in rural regions. They continued to unleash devastating strikes on military objectives.

Since January, civilians have been increasingly targeted, with hundreds of dead in mass executions in villages near the Niger-Mali border. The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, issued a statement on Sunday condemning the “barbaric acts” and stating that such attacks on civilians could be prosecuted as crimes against humanity by the courts.

Meanwhile, 12 troops were wounded and eight others were wounded in an ambush near the Mali border on Sunday, according to the authorities. According to Communications Minister Ousseni Tamboura, “members of the ground forces and the quick intervention unit GARSI were ambushed” in the northwest Boucle du Mouhoun region on Monday. The attack took place near Dounkoun hamlet in Toeni district.

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