Plane ‘linked to Wagner army’ crashes in Africa one month to the day its group’s leader Yevgeny Prigozhin was killed in Russia.
A plane transport ‘linked to Wagner’ has crashed in Africa a month after the mercenary group’s chief was killed in a jet explosion near Moscow.
The Soviet-designed Il-76 came down in Mali where the private army’s troops are stationed.
It was close to the airport in Gao, a frontline city in the country’s long-running armed conflict.
Pictures showed the stricken Ilyushin ablaze with black smoke, apparently having crashed after takeoff. The fate of those on board was unclear.
There were initially conflicting accounts of whether Wagner people were on board the plane.
Telegram channel VChK-OGPU said: ‘According to preliminary data, there could be mercenaries from PMC Wagner on board.’
Anti-government sources in Mali also claimed the Il-76 may have been linked to Wagner.
This was denied by Grey Zone, another Telegram channel linked to Wagner.
Grey Zone denied the plane belonged to Wagner and said ‘this chartered Il-76 aircraft was used by local forces to transport cargo for various purposes.
‘There were no fighters or pilots of the Wagner Group on board.’
Wagner is closely involved in military operations in Mali.
Another version was that the plane was used by UN peacekeepers.
‘This aircraft was used to supply the Malian army in the 1st Military District of El Muna,’ said one report.
It was on 23 August that Wagner’s billionaire boss Yevgeny Prigozhin – once a close ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin – was killed when his Embraer Legacy 600 jet.
An explosion on the plane was suspected, and there were unsubstantiated claims Prigozhin had been assassinated on the orders of Putin.
Dambiev pro-war Telegram channel said the crashed Il-76 was operated by a company from Belarus – a close Russian ally.
After a failed coup in Russia in June led by Prigozhin, a number of Wagner forces were sent to Belarus.
A local source in Mali said: ‘A white plane missed its landing and crashed near the airport.
‘Shortly afterwards, it burst into flames.’
Early reports suggest pilot error could be the cause, denying the plane was shot down.