• France edition
 
France faces intensified insurgency in Mali
French soldiers in Gao, in northern Mali on February 10th. Photo: Pascal Guyot/AFP

France faces intensified insurgency in Mali

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.

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
Ten things to do in France before Christmas
There's some great things to do in France before Christmas. Photo: AFP

Ten things to do in France before Christmas

With Christmas just round the corner, we've put together ten great festive and not-so-festive events happening around France in December to help you brave the cold and have a ball. READ  

More violent storms set for south of France
The south of France is set to be hit by more rough weather. Photo:AFP

More violent storms set for south of France

The south of France is set to be lashed by more extreme weather with some 12 departments placed on alert for floods on Thursday after violent storms and heavy rain were forecast. READ  

Economists urge 'meek' France to be bold
Photo: Guiseppe Cacace/AFP

Economists urge 'meek' France to be bold

A top level economic report on Thursday urged European heavyweights France and Germany to implement urgent economic reforms, warning that Europe risked falling into a "stagnation trap." READ  

New pills that make flatulence smell like roses
Christian Poincheval, the man behind the scented-flatulence pills. Photo: Pilulepet.com

New pills that make flatulence smell like roses

A Frenchman may have come up with the perfect solution to one of life's major problems after he claimed to have invented a pill that makes bodily gases smell like roses and chocolate READ  

France and Russia
Russia's Christmas gift to Paris raises eyebrows
From Russia...with love? Paris's diplomatic relations with Moscow have been strained by the ongoing crisis in the Ukraine. Photo: Pierre Verdy/AFP

Russia's Christmas gift to Paris raises eyebrows

Cash-strapped Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has been handed a gigantic Christmas tree as a gift by an unlikely benefactor: Russia. But questions are being asked whether there is an ulterior motive behind the Christmas present. READ  

Farmers cry wolf in Paris over sheep 'massacre'
Sheep graze under the Eiffel Tower, as their shepherds protest against wolf attacks. Photo: Patrick Kovarick/AFP

Farmers cry wolf in Paris over sheep 'massacre'

Sheep grazed around the Eiffel Tower on Thursday as angry French farmers flocked to the capital to express their frustration over increasing attacks by wolves which some say have been "overprotected" by the government. READ  

Opinion - Lending to Le Pen
'France must ban foreign loans to political parties'
Whether or not Putin's attempts to meddle in French politics were the reason behind a €9 million loan to the National Front, it has to be forbidden, a lawmaker tells The Local. Photo:AFP

'France must ban foreign loans to political parties'

News that France's far-right National Front party had secured a €9 million loan from a Russian bank sent tremors through the French political class and prompted a French lawmaker to propose a bill to outlaw the practice. He told The Local why it was necessary. READ  

Paris holds on to title of world's best student city
There were a staggering 96,782 foreigners studying in Paris in 2013. Photo of student in Paris: Shutterstock

Paris holds on to title of world's best student city

Paris has clinched top spot in the global "Best Student Cities" rankings for the third year running, beating off stiff opposition from the likes of Melbourne, London and Boston. READ  

Napoleon's locks to be put in Swiss watches
Detail of portrait of Napoleon by painter Jacques-Louis David (1812).

Napoleon's locks to be put in Swiss watches

Napoleon's admirers will be able to carry his DNA on their wrists after a Swiss company announced Tuesday its plans to sell watches containing a fragment of the emperor's hair. READ  

Angry French women shame gynos on Twitter
French women shame gynecologists on Twitter. Gynaecology photo: Shutterstock

Angry French women shame gynos on Twitter

French women fed up with inappropriate comments or behaviour from gynaecologists have taken to Twitter in their thousands to vent their spleen. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Education
Is Paris really the best place in the world to be a student?
Society
The things gynecologists say that drive French women mad
Sponsored Article
Win a €250 voucher for your Christmas list
National
A pill to make flatulence smell like roses? A Frenchman has cracked it
Culture
Rare 400-year-old Shakespeare work found in northern France
National
Paris air pollution: 'It's like being in a room with eight smokers'
National
From infidelity to sexual needs: How French women have changed in 30 years
National
Billboards to be replaced by trees - the bold move by one French city
Gallery
French government gives 10 reasons to be proud: No. 1 - The Economy
Politics
France's 'first ladies': A look back at the other halves
National
Would background music make the RER in Paris feel safer?
Sponsored Article
Shop Christmas gifts at Debenhams international store
National
Trierweiler to break her silence... in the UK
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Winter is coming to the French Alps
Gallery
Don't confuse France with Paris: Here's ten reasons why
Sponsored Article
Live like a local - anywhere in the world
National
From the homeless to migrants: A portrait of modern France in ten stats
Culture
Are you brainy enough to be Miss France? Take the quiz
Gallery
France's most notorious celebrities. How many do you know?
Society
City of Love? Seven Paris myths debunked
Education
Why is France worst in the EU at English?
National
C'est pas possible! Paris is 'world's cheapest city for young people'
National
Looking to save space? France allows toilets in kitchens for first time
National
Find out how women in France are getting stung for a hidden tax
Culture
Which one is your favourite? The top 10 heartiest French winter dishes
Face Of The Week
Nabilla - 'France's Kim Kardashian' held for attempted murder
National
So who's scaring everyone by flying drones over France’s nuclear plants?
Education
Whoever thinks French was a dying language should read this
Politics
OPINION: 'One day France will be grateful to François Hollande'
Gallery
IN IMAGES: A history of France's most controversial architecture
National
How to make an 8-square-metre Paris apartment perfectly liveable
Gallery
VIDEO: France's raunchiest TV ads, including that infamous Perrier one
National
Five reasons why you should work a ski season in France and five not to
National
10 art exhibitions not to miss this autumn in Paris
Culture
What's on in France: 11 things to do this November
National
How French have you become? Take our quiz to find out
National
10 things to never say to a French person
National
Top 10: When French translations go wrong
National
Parisian bars that serve drinkers free meals
National
France falls to Germans in nude swim tourney
Gallery
IN PICTURES: Nowhere combines sex and art quite like France
National
Why you should never turn down an invitation to a French wedding
Sport
Discover the route of the 2015 Tour de France. There are a few surprises
Gallery
Ten changes that would make learning French so much easier
Culture
IN PICTURES: 'Glass ship' Vuitton ready to set sail in Paris
International
How a giant 'sex toy' earned an American artist a slap in Paris
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Germany

More news from Germany at thelocal.de

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se