Aminata Jallo had rushed out of her home in preparation for taking her children to a place of safety when the missile exploded near her. She was killed instantly, but her one-year-old son, Saida, whom she was carrying in a cradle on her back, was thrown clear.
The 30-year-old mother of four was among a dozen to die in Konna, all of them as a result of military action by French forces as they drove out Islamist fighters from the town. Around 15 more were injured, some of them severely, among them Aminata’s seven-year-old daughter Isata.
It was the fall of Konna to the jihadists, which left the road to Bamako open to them, which led to President François Hollande ordering intervention by his country’s forces earlier this month.
Until now confirmed reports of civilian casualties – indeed any casualties – of the French-led assault in Mali have been hard to verify, but the victims of Konna are almost certainly not the last.
The “collateral damage” accompanying the material destruction in the village included four members of the Maiga family. They were under a mango tree in their courtyard, preparing food, when an attack helicopter swooped down low overhead. Terrified, they ran into their home, but shrapnel sliced through the tin door taking the lives of a 42-year-old mother, who was also called Aminata, and her three children – six-year-old Zeinab, 10-year-old Alean and Ali, 11.
The Islamists were hit by a ferocious barrage from the air by fighter-bombers and helicopter-gunships. The prefecture which they made their headquarters had been left a blasted ruin; their vehicles, many commandeered after being abandoned by the fleeing Malian forces, were charred and twisted wreckage.
The rebels had also been using weapons and ammunition left behind by the Malian army, including US-made equipment. American forces have been training Malian troops, and part of a detonator cap was visible amid the debris stamped with – “Property of United Stated DoD (Department of Defence) Return to DDSP New Cumberland Facility”.
Both the Jallo and the Maiga family insisted that they did not hold any ill-will against the French, whom they said were there to save their country from a vicious enemy. Mistakes, they acknowledged, take place in such bad times.
Aminata Jallo’s sons and daughters are being looked after, for the time being, by a relation, 36-year-old Genova Coulibaly. But she has five children of her own and 57-year-old Amadou Jallo will now have to balance his job as a driver along with having to bring them up. He wondered: “They have so much knowledge and they have such modern equipment – I do not know why this happened. The Islamists were not near my home when the bombs were dropped. I know they made a genuine mistake, but I would like to know who they were aiming at.
“But I thank Allah that my son is alive. My wife was carrying him at the time she was killed it is amazing, a miracle, that he was not hurt. My daughter (Isata) has been injured, but Inshallah, she will be alright.”
There were still bloodstains on the floor of the Maiga home where Aminata Maiga had gone to protect herself and her children. Her nephew, Suleiman, recalled: “We saw the two helicopters and they were so low that everyone became afraid. Some of the people ran into the house; I ran and crawled up next to a wall.
“The noise when the firing began was terrible. When it was over I went into the house and saw what had happened; they all looked dead. My aunt’s body was on top – I think she was trying to save the little ones, but the metal had gone through them all and the wounds were very bad. I tried their pulse, but that was no good.
“Then I heard crying; it was her youngest son. He was in a corner. He must have got separated from the others when they were rushing in – he was very lucky.”
The only French fatality of the Malian war so far took place during operations in Konna, when a helicopter pilot was killed by gunfire from the ground. A further two French commandos died in a failed attempt to rescue a hostage in Somalia on the same day, both of which have cast a shadow over President Hollande’s African mission.
The recapture of Konna was viewed in Paris as a significant step in turning the tide of this war against the rebels with French forces heading towards Timbuktu today and in control of another northern town, Gao.
The Islamists are said to have lost dozens in the fighting, but that is impossible to ascertain as the retreating fighters carried away their dead. Around 70 Malian troops were killed in Konna. Some may have been executed after being captured. A number of them had rushed into peoples’ homes as the Islamists won the initial battle, shedding their uniforms, saying they would be back with reinforcements. When they failed to return after the town was retaken the residents contacted the Malian army.
“I was told by an officer that the soldier who left his things behind in my place was probably caught and then killed as he was trying to get away” said Ahmed Toure. “He was a very young man; he looked frightened. We buried the bodies we found here. I do not think they will be the last ones we bury”.
Britons told to get out of Somaliland
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) today urged all Westerners to leave Somaliland immediately, citing “specific” threats and raising the spectre of further acts of terrorism against British nationals in Africa, writes Sam Masters.
Travel advice against visiting Somalia had already been issued but yesterday it went further, advising all British nationals to leave the region where kidnapping “motivated by criminality or terrorism” was a threat.
The FCO said there were a number of Westerners, and potentially Britons, still working for NGOs in Somaliland.
It would not comment on the nature of the threat but has warned that southern and central regions of Somalia are rife with ongoing “serious violence and dangerous levels of criminal activity”.
Last week Britons were urged to leave Benghazi in Libya in response to the threat of attacks from groups linked to al-Qa’ida.