Mortars lit up the dawn sky when they were fired on a United Nations base in the northern Mali city of Kidal early Saturday, killing at least three people.
The attack came eight days after Islamic extremists attacked a luxury hotel further south in the capital, Bamako, in which 20 people were killed.
Two UN peacekeepers and a contractor were killed in the Saturday assault in Kidal that also injured 20 people, leaving four in serious condition, said Olivier Salgado, spokesman for the UN mission in Mali.
Guinea’s Ministry of Defence said two of its soldiers were killed.
French troops and the 10,000-strong UN force, known as MINUSMA, are struggling to stabilize the former French colony.
A Kidal resident said about six shells were fired by attackers at dawn.
“The earth vibrated then I saw two flares in the air and then another one burst, which gave me the impression of being a response by the UN,” said Assarid Ag Cheick.
No group claimed responsibility for the attack in the country’s restless north but Islamic extremists are suspected.
French news agency AFP said that Malian Islamic fundamentalist rebel group Ansar Dine had claimed responsibility for the attack. Ansar Dine is one of the three Islamic fundamentalist militant groups — along with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its splinter group al Mourabitoun and Massina Liberation Front (MLF) — that claimed last week’s attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako, where the victims included Russians, Chinese and an American.
Security analysts say the groups could be collaborating.
“I want to reiterate that these attacks will not impede the determination of the United Nations to support the Malian people and the peace process,” said Mongi Hamdi, the head of the UN mission. “I express my solidarity and salute the brave men and women serving [the UN mission] throughout the country for their efforts to bringing lasting peace to Mali in these difficult conditions.”
Northern Mali has been unstable since it fell to Tuareg separatists and then Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. Separatists, militia groups and the government signed a peace deal in June.
In 2013, the French pushed Islamic militants out of Mali’s northern cities and towns, but jihadists continue to carry out attacks, often targeting UN peacekeepers. These attacks are more common around full moons when the lighter nights make it easier to target the camps, although it is rare for the missiles to land inside the walls.
Extremists extended their reach further south this year, including an assault on a Bamako restaurant and bar popular with foreigners in March that killed five people and another on a hotel in Mali’s central Sevare town in August that killed 13. Islamic extremist group Al-Mourabitoun claimed responsibility for both attacks.
The group has said it worked with al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb on the Nov. 20 assault on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako — their bloodiest attack yet in the country’s south. However, responsibility for the attack was also claimed by other militant groups.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said in a statement that he is outraged by the attacks. He added that the attacks will not impede the UN’s determination the Malian Government, the signatory parties to the peace agreement, and the people of Mali, in their efforts to achieve lasting peace and stability.