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

Islamist militants struck Mali's main military base, just outside the capital Bamako, on Friday in a complex attack involving car bombs, but the armed forces said they had repelled the assault and had the situation under control.

Militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have repeatedly raided bases across Mali during a decade-long insurgency concentrated in the north and centre but never so close to Bamako in the south.

Heavy gunfire rang out for about an hour early on Friday at the Kati camp, about 15 km (10 miles) northwest of Bamako. A convoy carrying the leader of Mali's junta, Colonel Assimi Goita, later sped away from his house in Kati in the direction of Bamako, a Reuters reporter said.

The military said in a statement that the assault involved two car bombs and was carried out by the Katiba Macina, a branch of al Qaeda's local affiliate that is most active in central Mali.

One soldier died in the attack and six people were wounded, while seven assailants were killed and eight arrested, it said.

"The military staff wishes to reassure the population that the situation is under control and that it can go about its activities," the military said.

After the attack, soldiers shot and killed a man outside the camp when his vehicle did not heed their orders to stop, witnesses told Reuters. The other person in the vehicle fled, they said.

The military also blamed Katiba Macina for several attacks on Thursday against bases in central Mali, which it said had killed one soldier and wounded 15.

Kati was the site of mutinies in 2012 and 2020 that led to successful coups, but camp residents told Reuters that the soldiers did not appear to be fighting among themselves this time.

Mali's ruling junta came to power in an August 2020 coup. It staged a second coup in 2021 to force out a civilian interim president who was at odds with Goita.

Goita's transitional 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.

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

The only major attack to hit Bamako occurred in 2015, when al Qaeda-linked militants killed 20 people at a luxury hotel.