• France's news in English
 
app_header_v3

France faces intensified insurgency in Mali

AFP · 11 Feb 2013, 08:27

Published: 11 Feb 2013 08:27 GMT+01:00

In the first large-scale urban guerrilla assault of the conflict, rebels from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) attacked Malian troops in the streets of central Gao, sending residents running for cover as Kalashnikov bullets and 14.5-millimetre rounds pierced the air.

Rocket-propelled grenade explosions and fire from heavy machine guns and light weapons resounded late into the afternoon before dying down in the evening, when a power cut plunged the city into darkness.

A French Tiger attack helicopter was circulating over the neighbourhood around the governor's offices and the central police station, the focal points of the attack.

French and Malian forces conducted joint patrols, warning residents that snipers could be hidden in the city. "Many Islamists were killed," said Colonel Mamadou Sanake of the Malian army.

A death toll could not immediately be established, and it was unclear whether any soldiers had been killed. Sanake said the rebels had infiltrated the city by motorcycle and via the Niger river, which passes near the governor's offices.

MUJAO, one of the Al-Qaeda-linked groups that seized control of northern Mali for 10 months in the wake of a military coup in March 2012, claimed the attack and a suicide bombing Saturday, its second in two days.

"Today God's faithful successfully attacked the Malian army, which let the enemies of Islam come to Gao," said spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui. "The combat will continue until victory, thanks to God's protection. The mujahedeen are in the city of Gao and will remain there."

A witness said the gunmen had hidden in the empty police station  which MUJAO used as the headquarters of its "Islamic police" until French-led forces recaptured Gao on January 26  then attacked Malian soldiers when they arrived.

When reinforcements came, snipers hidden in surrounding buildings opened fire on them, he said. The man said he had seen one body that appeared to be that of a civilian hit by a stray bullet.

A security source said there had been "several dozen" attackers. The French army said it had evacuated some 50 journalists who were in a nearby restaurant and hotel when the fighting erupted.

The latest violence underlined the threat of a drawn-out insurgency as France tries to map an exit strategy nearly one month into its intervention in its former colony. Late Saturday, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the same army checkpoint where the first such attack in Mali occurred a day earlier.

His severed head, still lying on the ground the next morning, was later picked up and placed in a wheelbarrow as French troops swept the site at the edge of Gao for landmines, finding three, according to a soldier.

The two MUJAO suicide attackers were the only fatalities in the explosions, although one soldier was lightly wounded in Friday's blast.

'We aren't just going to leave surreptitiously'

France is anxious to hand over its military operation to UN peacekeepers, and last week announced it would begin bringing its troops home in March.

Story continues below…

Asked whether there was a risk getting bogged down long-term, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told journalists Sunday: "No. I've said that of course we have to be pragmatic but... the goals of the operation must be clear and the duration must not be infinite. "But we aren't going to just leave surreptitiously," he added.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told France it was reaping in Mali what it had sown in Libya by arming rebels fighting slain dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

"In Mali, France is fighting against those it armed in Libya against Kadhafi's regime," he said. Lavrov has previously criticised French arms drops to rebels fighting Kadhafi's regime, denouncing France's interpretations of a UN resolution allowing the use of force to protect the civilian population.

Mali imploded after last year's coup waged by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation by a separatist rebellion among the Tuareg, a north African people who have long complained of being marginalized by Bamako. Many of the Tuareg rebels had fought alongside Kadhafi's forces in Libya.

With the capital in disarray after the coup, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion and took control of the north, imposing a brutal form of Islamic law.

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
France charges Charlie Hebdo killer’s relative
The suspect was charged after being handed over to French authorities by Bulgaria. Dimitar Dilkoff /AFP

The brother-in-law of one of the jihadists who attacked French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo last year faced terrorism charges on Saturday for allegedly trying to join Islamic State fighters in Syria, a judicial source said.

French mayors dismiss suspended burqini ban
Photo: Jean Christophe Magnenet /AFP

The row over France’s burqini ban continues with several mayors vowing to keep restrictions in place despite the country’s top court suspending the ban in the resort town of Villeneuve-Loubet.

France's top court suspends burqini ban
Photo: bellmon1/Flickr

France's highest administrative court has suspended a town's ban on wearing the full-body burqini swimsuit.

Milk price raised, but French farmers still unhappy
The sign on the tractor reads 'We're dying', as farmers blocked Lactalis dairy headquarters. Photo: AFP

Milk prices have been raised by France's biggest dairy group to placate farmers, but unions say their demands have not been met.

Burqini bans 'dividing France's Muslim women'
Photo: AFP

The burqini bans have divided France, but they have also left Muslim women in France in two groups, argues a professor who has spent years studying the impact of the burqa.

Pizza-delivery drones could be on their way to France
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's your pizza. Photo: AFP

No more need to deal with grumpy French waiters...

Heatwave drags on as France faces red-hot weekend
Photo: AFP

France will see searing temperatures on Friday and Saturday, as the heatwave warnings have been extended (once again).

Nice: The French capital of burqini fines
The beach in the Riviera city of Nice. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

It's one of only two of the 30 towns with a burqini ban in place to have actually given out any fines.

How to make France's famed Île Flottante dessert
Photo: Paul Oatway

France-based food blogger Laura Tobin shares her recipe for this delicious French dessert.

France's top court set to rule on burqini ban
Photo: bellmon1/Flickr

France's highest administrative court will decide this afternoon whether to overturn the burqini ban.

Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Education
French schools to ramp up security with 'mock attacks'
Sponsored Article
5 reasons to try dating in Paris with The Inner Circle
Features
Where to go in France to find the best ice cream
National
Majority in France against burqinis on beaches
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
How to keep cool during France's heatwave
Sponsored Article
Jordan: where history meets adventure
Society
Parisians invited to swim in the Bassin de la Villette
Society
Five tips for surviving an internship in France
Politics
Déja vu? Familiar faces in France's presidential race
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
National
Meet the man paying off burqini fines in France
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
National
Eight tips on buying wine in a French supermarket
Society
Here's how to enjoy Paris (while avoiding the heat)
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Society
Ten mistakes to avoid when dating a Frenchman
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Society
Twelve 'French' things that aren't actually French at all
'World's priciest home' on sale in French Riviera for €1 billion
Sponsored Article
Jordan Pass: your ticket to the experience of a lifetime
Lifestyle
RECIPE: How to make the tastiest ratatouille
Sponsored Article
Why Jordan is the ‘Different’ East
National
Paris sees Europe's biggest plunge in 'liveability'
Sponsored Article
6 reasons expats use TransferWise to send money
National
Life on the home front in rural France's 'war on terror'
Sponsored Article
Life in Jordan: 'Undiscovered treasure'
Features
Weird facts you didn't know about the French language
Society
Paris foodie event cancelled over lack of security
How to tackle six of the trickiest French verbs
National
Summer in France - 'the ideal time to find a job'
National
'Burqini bans will only divide France more'
National
French vineyards revive horse-drawn ploughs
French mayor bans Pokemon Go app from his village
2,751
jobs available