Nine United Nations peacekeepers in Mali were killed when heavily armed gunmen on motorbikes ambushed their convoy on Friday, the deadliest attack yet on U.N. troops in the west African nation, the mission said.
According to Reuters Africa, the attack on the peacekeepers from Niger took place in the region of Gao and highlighted a sharp increase in strikes on foreign troops based in Mali to prevent the return of al Qaeda-linked Islamists who seized its northern desert region in 2012.
"They were targeting a convoy that included a fuel truck, knowing full well that an attack on a fuel truck would cause an even greater number of casualties, which adds to the horrendous nature of the crime," Dujarric said.
Dujarric said that 30 peacekeepers had been killed in Mali since the U.N. mission began in July last year, while another 90 had been wounded. He said Friday's attack took place between the northeastern towns of Menaka and Ansongo.
The U.N. mission said aircraft had been dispatched to secure the zone, which is near Mali's border with Niger.
The attack was condemned by the French and the Niger governments. Both reiterated their commitment to continue the fight against Islamist militants in northern Mali and the wider region.
"In any event, Niger is more than ever determined to fight tirelessly alongside other international forces against all forms of terrorism in the Sahelo-Sahara region," Niger's defence minister Karidio Mahamadou said in a statement.