However, at least one local jihadist leader said the suspect was not a member of the radical groups who ruled the region for nearly 10 months until a French-led military operation was launched in January to oust them from power.
Abda Ag Kazina, the deputy mayor of nearby Kidal, said the attack took place Saturday in the village of Ikadiwane, north of Menaka, where an attempted suicide bombing had taken place on Friday. The jihadist group MUJAO or Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, claimed responsibility for that attack.
"The man cried 'Allah Akbar, Allahou Akbar' and opened fire on the crowd, killing three people and seriously wounding another," he told The Associated Press.
A former member of the national police who was at the scene shot and wounded the suspect, who then was taken to Kidal.
"We don't know for the time being whether it's an Islamist or even what his motive was," the deputy mayor said.
Alghabass Ag Intalla, who heads the recently-created Islamic Movement of the Azawad, denied that the attacker who opened fire was a member of the radical groups who ruled the region for nearly 10 months until a French-led military operation was launched in January to oust them from power.
The attack on civilians could mark a change in strategy for the extremists who previously have only targeted military checkpoints and installations in suicide bombings, causing military casualties. So far civilians have not been directly targeted.
"It's not an Islamist he doesn't belong to MUJAO or to any other group," Intalla told the AP by telephone. "It's a criminal and we are going to try him. Everyone can cry 'Allahou Akbar' but that doesn't make them an Islamist."
While the French-led military offensive ousted radical jihadists from the major towns of the region, they have regrouped in outlying areas and launched a number of attacks. The unrest has raised fears about how secure northern Mali will be once France reduces its presence, as it plans to have only 1,000 troops left by year-end from a peak deployment of about 4,000.