Dramatic footage showing a large Russian-made plane veering off a runway and exploding into flames has emerged from Mali.
Suspicions have been raised over whether the Il-76 aircraft has a connection to the Wagner mercenary group, which operates in parts of the war-torn nation.
The incident took place just weeks after the former leader of the controversial army, Yevgeny Prigozhin, was killed in a business jet explosion near Moscow.
The Il-76 plane was filmed landing in Gao but failed to stop, quickly turning into a fiery inferno, with reports of the Russian pilot’s death.
The footage dispels initial reports that the aircraft was shot down by a man-portable air defence system in the region.
It is believed that the plane landed too far down the runway, failed to brake within 500 meters, and overshot, resulting in a collision which forced the fuel tank to erupt.
The exact number of casualties is unknown, but concerns exist that up to 140 passengers could have been on board.
The aircraft was reportedly used by the Malian military, although the Grey Zone Telegram channel, close to Wagner, stated that the flight did not transport any Wagner Group personnel.
The crashed Il-76 was allegedly operated by a Belarusian company called Ruby Star Airways, a close ally of Russia, which has seen an influx of Wagner forces following a failed coup in Russia in June.
The crash came two months after the failed coup, leaving many analysts scratching their heads as to why Prigozhin, a noted adversary of Putin, was still in Russia.
It is still unclear how the plane was taken down. There is speculation a bomb was planted in a crate used to carry wine, while some eyewitnesses suggested a missile had taken the aircraft down.
While some believe the coup, which lasted just two days, was an orchestrated plot by Putin as an opportunity to remind Russians of his strength, the bombshell development has raised renewed concerns about instability in the nation.
Analysts immediately turned the focus on Putin, floating theories as to why it took so long for the Russian leader to target Prigozhin.
“Assuming that Yevgeny Prigozhin was in the plane that crashed, one has to wonder: What took Putin so long?” Clifford D. May, President of the Foundation for the Defence of Democracies (FDD), said in a statement provided to news.com.au.
“Was he mulling over the costs and benefits? For example, this cost: Putin will need to find someone else to supervise Russian imperialism in Africa.”
Prigozhin was laid to rest in a secret ceremony in his native St Petersburg.