The Al Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) said that it was behind a Monday attack that killed three French soldiers in Mali, according to a statement released on its propaganda platform Al-Zallaqa.

GSIM, also known as the Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM), the main jihadist coalition in the Sahel, mentioned several reasons for the attack, France 24 reported Saturday. (RELATED: Over 100 Alleged Jihadists Released In African Country To Free A Politician And A French Philanthropist)

Their reasons ranged from the French military presence in the region to the cartoons critical of the Prophet Mohammed published by a French newspaper, and French President Emmanuel Macron’s defense of the cartoonists’ and the paper’s freedom of expression, according to the outlet.

JNIM is a militant group in North and West Africa formed by a merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun, and the Saharan branch of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the Anadolu Agency reported.

On Monday, the French presidency announced that three French soldiers, who were part of France’s counter terror Operation Barkhane, were killed in eastern Mali as their vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED), according to the Anadolu Agency. 

France’s Barkhane force comprises of 5,100 troops spread across the arid Sahel region, and have been battling jihadist groups alongside soldiers from Mauritania, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, who together form the G5 Sahel group, according to France 24.

According to further reporting from the outlet, the trio’s deaths raise the number of French soldiers killed in Mali since France first intervened militarily in January 2013 to 47.

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