A man rides a motorcycle as he drives past the entrance of the Malian army force base in Kati, Mali May 25, 2021.
A man rides a motorcycle as he drives past the entrance of the Malian army force base in Kati, Mali May 25, 2021. Reuters / Amadou Keita

Heavy gunfire was heard early on Friday at the main military base outside Mali's capital Bamako before easing after about an hour, in what residents of the camp said they believed was an attack by Islamist militants.

After the gunfire subsided at around 6 a.m. (0600 GMT), helicopters circled above the Kati base, which is about 15 km (10 miles) from Bamako. A convoy carying the leader of Mali's ruling junta, Colonel Assimi Goita, sped away from his house in Kati in the direction of Bamako, a Reuters reporter said.

Kati was the site of mutinies in 2012 and 2020 that led to successful coups, but three camp residents, who asked not to be identified, said the soldiers did not appear to be fighting among themselves.

Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have repeatedly attacked army bases across the country during a decade-long insurgency but never so close to the capital.

The army said late on Thursday that al Qaeda-linked militants had staged coordinated attacks against several military camps earlier in the day several hundred kilometres north of Bamako, killing one soldier and wounding 15.

Mali's military spokesman was not immediately available for comment on Friday and an official at the presidency declined to comment.

Mali's junta came to power in an August 2020 coup that began as a mutiny at the Kati base. It staged a second coup in 2021 to force out a civilian interim president who was at odds with Goita.

Goita then became interim president. He plans to continue to lead a transitional government until elections are held in 2024.

His government has sparred repeatedly with neighbouring countries and international powers over election delays, alleged army abuses and cooperation with Russian mercenaries in the fight against the Islamist insurgency.

Despite coming to power pledging to stamp out the insurrection, the junta has been unable to prevent the insurgents from extending their operations further south from their havens in the north and centre.

Last week, unidentified armed men killed six people at a checkpoint just 70 km east of Bamako.