Transport aircraft type Ilyushin IL-76 (archive image): Among the fatalities are said to have been members of the Russian mercenary group Wagner.

Photo: Rob Griffith/ AP/dpa

Several people have allegedly been killed in the crash of a plane in Mali, including members of the Russian mercenary group Wagner. The plane that crashed during landing belonged to the Malian army, a military representative told AFP on Sunday. The plane that crashed on Saturday "with allies" was deployed in Gao.

Sources close to the rescue workers said that when the survivors arrived, mainly Russian Wagner soldiers were seen. Initially, there was no official information about damage and victims. From the environment of the airport and from diplomatic circles, however, it was said that these could be high.

According to a source at the airport in Gao, investigators returned to the crash site on Sunday. Already on Saturday evening, injured people had been transported with another aircraft to an unknown destination.

Initially, nothing was known about the cause of the crash. A representative of the Bundeswehr task force, which is represented in Mali as part of the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA, said that the Russian-made IL-76 aircraft could possibly have overshot the runway on Saturday. An airport official said the crashed plane was overloaded.

The airport of Gao is currently used by Malian soldiers and their Russian allies, as well as by the Bundeswehr.

For years, Mali has been the scene of a rebellion by Islamist extremists that began in the north of the country in 2012 and later spread to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso. Since 2013, MINUSMA has been helping to bring peace to the country and protect the civilian population.

However, the military government in Mali, which came to power in a coup in 2021, had demanded the immediate withdrawal of the UN mission MINUSMA from the West African country in June. The background to this is growing tensions between the junta and countries involved in the operation.

The military government is increasingly cooperating with Russia and the Wagner mercenary group and, from the point of view of, for example, France and Germany, is hindering the UN mission.

The German government had already decided in 2022 to withdraw the Bundeswehr from Mali, which is to take place by the end of 2023. There are currently around 750 Bundeswehr soldiers in Mali.