The Malian authorities accused France of “espionage” and “subversion” after videos taken by a drone belonging to the French military showed men covering corpses, in what seemed like a staged mass grave. 

On April 21, 2022, the French General Staff shared drone footage with media France 24 filmed over Gossi, northern Mali, which showed unidentified soldiers burying corpses in the sand. 

According to the French military, these soldiers are Russian mercenaries most likely belonging to the paramilitary organization Wagner Group. The presence of Russian mercenaries in Mali was recognized by Russian President Vladimir Putin in January 2022.  

The footage, recorded on April 20, 2022, was allegedly part of a misinformation operation to slander the French soldiers involved in Operation Barkhane. The latter had transferred control of their base in Gossi to the regular Malian armed forces a day before. 

And indeed, on April 22, 2022, the Malian General Staff had reported a "mass grave, not far from the camp formerly occupied by the French Barkhane force”. 

On April 26, 2022, the military junta of Bamako protested over the “fifty deliberate cases of violation of Malian airspace by foreign aircraft, in particular operated by French forces”. 

“One of the most recent cases was the illegal presence of a drone of the French forces, on April 20, 2022, above the base of Gossi,” said Abdoulaye Maïga, Malian Minister of Territorial administration and spokesperson for the transitional government. “In addition to espionage, the French forces were guilty of subversion by publishing false images fabricated from scratch in order to accuse the FAMa [Malian Armed Forces - ed. note] of being the authors of the killings of civilians, with the aim of tarnishing [their] image.” 

The same day, an investigation was opened by the Malian military justice, and the Minister of Defense, to shed light on these events. “Public opinion will be kept regularly informed of the progress of the investigation, the results of which will be made public,” the public prosecutor office at the Bamako military court said in a press release.