BAMAKO (Reuters) - Six U.N. peacekeepers were killed and five severely wounded when their convoy was attacked in northern Mali on Thursday, the U.N. peacekeeping mission (MINUSMA) said, a raid claimed by al Qaeda's North African arm.
MINUSMA said it had ordered reinforcements to the scene of the ambush, about 45 km (30 miles) south of Timbuktu on the road towards the town of Goundam, and had sent attack helicopters to the region where armed Islamist groups have carried out several attacks against peacekeepers.
All of the dead and wounded came from MINUSMA's contingent from Burkina Faso, the United Nations said.
"Those responsible for this ignoble crime must be identified and brought to justice as quickly as possible," said Mongi Hamdi, MINUSMA head and special representative of the U.N. Secretary General.
A spokesman for al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) told Mauritanian news site Alakhbar, which frequently receives messages from armed Islamist groups, that it was responsible for the attack on the U.N. convoy.
The AQIM spokesman said seven peacekeepers were killed and four MINUSMA vehicles destroyed, Alakhbar reported.
A French-led military campaign in early 2013 liberated northern Mali from al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebels, who had seized control of the area after a Tuareg uprising led to a military coup that plunged Mali into chaos.
The latest attack took place less than two weeks after the Malian government signed a peace deal with the Tuareg-led northern separatist rebels, in the hope of allowing government forces to concentrate on fighting armed Islamist groups.
Since the beginning of MINUSMA's mission in April 2013, 42 peacekeepers have been killed by hostile acts - including 10 so far this year - and 166 wounded, the United Nations said.
The U.N. Security Council voted this month to impose sanctions on those responsible for attacks on MINUSMA.
Reporting by Souleymane Ag Anara and Adama Diarra; Additional reporting and writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Andrew Heavens