Video shared on social media shows the dramatic moment when a plane purportedly linked to the Russian Wagner private military company (PMC) crashed on a runway in Mali.
The clip posted by several X (formerly Twitter) users, including aviation accounts, shows the Soviet-era Ilyushin Il-76 landing at Gao Airport in the West African country on September 23, overrunning the runway at high speed, before breaking into pieces and catching fire.
The fate of those onboard is not known, but there has been speculation that they included members of the Wagner Group, which has a presence in Mali. Telegram channel VChK-OGPU, which claims to have links to Russia’s security services, posted that “according to preliminary data, there could be mercenaries from PMC Wagner on board.”
Wagner provides security services in parts of Africa and also gives the Kremlin a crucial link to the continent’s rich resources. However, there is uncertainty about the future of Wagner in Africa following the death in a plane crash in Russia of its founder, Yevgeny Prigozhin last month.
His death came two months after his troops staged a mutiny against Russia’s military establishment which was a challenge to Vladimir Putin’s leadership. The Kremlin denied any involvement in the crash that killed him.
The Ilyushin-76 is a multi-purpose, fixed-wing, four-engine turbofan strategic airlifter often used to deliver heavy machinery to remote, poorly served areas.
The aircraft has been spotted in various African regions, often coinciding with the presence of paramilitary forces such as Wagner and other parts of the continent, such as the Central African Republic.
Anti-government sources in Mali also said that the plane may have been linked to Wagner, according to some reports, while local sources have suggested that it was a Malian Army aircraft carrying equipment.
An airport source and local official told the news magazine Jeune Afrique that the plane belonged to the Malian army transporting Wagner soldiers and was overloaded. “The causes are not yet known,” the airport source told the outlet.
The Telegram account Grey Zone, which has links to Wagner, denied that there were PMC members on board at the time of the crash.
“In an information vacuum, there are rumors that the plane belonged to the Wagner Group. But this is not true,” said the post on Wednesday. “This chartered Il-76 board was used by local forces to transport goods for various purposes. There were no personnel of the Wagner Group on this board.”
Social media users noted that the aircraft that crashed was registered in Belarus with tail number EW-412TH. It was flying a route from the Belarusian capital Minsk to Mali and was due to head to Istanbul.
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