Nouakchott (Mali): The main militant alliance in Africa’s Sahel region with links to Al Qaida on Friday claimed an attack last weekend on the UN camp of international troops in northern Mali’s historic city of Timbuktu.

One UN peacekeeper from Burkina Faso was killed in the rocket, mortar and car bomb attack, while fourteen UN and French soldiers along with two civilians were wounded.

Around 15 of the attackers were killed, according to the French military.

The United Nations said it marked the biggest single attack on its peacekeepers since they were deployed to Mali in July 2013.

The militant alliance’s claim to have carried out the operation was revealed in a statement posted on social networks and also received by the Mauritanian agency ANI and the US militant monitoring SITE intelligence group.

It said the attack was launched to avenge raids by French forces earlier this month in which several of its members were killed.

The alliance known as the Support Group for Islam and Muslims was formed last year and is led by Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Malian of the Tuareg ethnic group, with as deputy the Algerian Yahya Abu el Hammam, a leader of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), according to an audio message released to Islamist websites in March.

Mali’s unrest stems from a 2012 Tawareq separatist uprising against the state which was exploited by militants in order to take over key cities in the north.

More than a dozen of Timbuktu’s holy shrines, built in the 15th and 16th centuries when the city was revered as a centre of Islamic learning, were razed in a campaign against idolatry by Al Qaida-linked militants.

The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.

But vast stretches of the country remain out of the control of Malian, French and UN forces, which are frequent targets of attacks.