Al-Qaeda’s North African affiliate says a group linked to it carried out the suicide attack that killed at least 50 people in northern Mali.

A vehicle packed with explosives detonated at a camp housing soldiers and members of rival armed groups in the region’s main city, Gao.

Mali’s northern desert region has been restive since it was captured by militant Islamists in late 2012.

Despite French military intervention in 2013, the region remains tense.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said the suicide bombing was meant to punish rebel groups co-operating with France, according to a statement obtained by the SITE Intelligence Group.

AQIM said a group called al-Mourabitoun was responsible and named the bomber it said carried out the attack. Malian media had earlier suggested several bombers took part.

Gao in northern Mali was at the cradle of rebel uprisings and a sanctuary for Islamist fighters.

It is not the first time the military in Mali has been targeted by a deadly attack.