• France's news in English
 

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
Treasures stolen from Fontainebleau palace
The Chateau de Fontainebleau, south west of Paris. Photo: Bradley Wells/Flickr

Treasures stolen from Fontainebleau palace

Brazen burglars are on the run after they got away with 15 artefacts - including a king's crown - from the Fontainebleau palace near Paris on Sunday. READ  

Pyrenees hamlet cut off after massive mudslide
Some houses in the village of Gazost were left in a precarious position after the mudslide. Photo: Laurent Dard/AFP

Pyrenees hamlet cut off after massive mudslide

Residents in a tiny Pyrenees village in south-western France were cut off from the rest of the world at the weekend after a huge mudslide destroyed 150 metres of the road into the hamlet. READ  

Faulty pipe forces French nuke plant to shut down
Greenpeace activists stormed Fessenheim nuclear plant in March 2014. The plant was closed at the weekend due to a defective pipe. Photo: Frederick Florin/AFP

Faulty pipe forces French nuke plant to shut down

France's oldest nuclear plant at Fessenheim had to be shut down at the weekend due to a defected pipe, authorities said. Activists have long campaigned for the plant's permanent closure due to its age. READ  

Mass grave found under Paris supermarket
An archaeologist inspects the mass grave. Photo: Denis Gliksman, Inrap

Mass grave found under Paris supermarket

Around 200 skeletons were found closely packed together underneath the floor of a supermarket in central Paris, with experts saying the medieval grave offers a unique research opportunity. READ  

IN PICTURES
Napoleon returns to France 200 years on
Napoleon (or an actor that looks very like him) returns to France after 200 years. Photo: Jean-Christophe Magnenet/AFP

Napoleon returns to France 200 years on

Thousands of spectators looked on on Sunday as Napoleon Bonaparte made a dramatic return to France, landing on a beach on the Côte d'Azur, from where he is expected to make his way to Paris and then on to Waterloo. READ  

Ligue 1 round-up
PSG fluff chance to go top after rivals lose
PSG's Javier Pastore and Edinson Cavani look frustrated as their side are unable to overcome Monaco and go top of Ligue 1. Photo: Valery Hache/AFP

PSG fluff chance to go top after rivals lose

PSG missed an opportunity to go top of Ligue 1 at the weekend after rivals Lyon and Marseille both lost. But in Sunday's late match the French champions could only manage a draw against Monaco, last week's slayers of Arsenal. READ  

French singer Soko haunted by 'dark visions'
Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP

French singer Soko haunted by 'dark visions'

Soko wakes up every couple of hours each night. Recently it's because she has friends staying over, and she's a self-conscious sleeper. But for much longer Soko has been consumed by dark, vivid visions. READ  

France down and out as Wales keep hopes alive
Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

France down and out as Wales keep hopes alive

France were left with their Six Nations challenge in tatters after Wales triumphed 20-13 at the Stade de France on Saturday. READ  

French industrialist alive despite death report
Martin Bouygues alive and well. Photo: Sia Kambou/AFP

French industrialist alive despite death report

News agency AFP was obliged on Saturday to issue an apology to French industrialist Martin Bouygues, chairman and CEO of the conglomerate Bouygues, for erroneously reporting his death. READ  

Eight jailed in €100m Paris jewel heist
Photo: Francois Guillot/AFP

Eight jailed in €100m Paris jewel heist

A French court has sentenced eight men to jail over a double heist at a Harry Winston jewellery shop in Paris in which they made off with gems and watches worth more than €100 million ($114 million). READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Looking for something different to do in France in March? Here's 10 ideas
National
How can France enforce a no-drone zone over Paris?
Gallery
Here's how to be cool in Paris, according to Parisians
Business & Money
France or Germany: Which country really is the best one to work in?
National
Why do so many women in France smoke throughout their pregnancy?
National
VIDEO: Banned but beautiful - Paris seen through the eyes of a drone
National
Would you want this Frenchman to squeal at YOUR wedding?
National
'We're back' - Charlie Hebdo magazine returns with a bite
Society
Handsome men on the Paris Metro are unknowingly going viral
Society
What are the little things that make France so different?
National
Should we be worried about drones being flown over Paris?
Travel
Another deadly avalanche in the French Alps
National
Text offences: Why French workers need to watch out in future
Gallery
Mont-Saint-Michel cut off as 'supertide' season opens in France
Gallery
Ten great moments for France throughout Oscar history
Culture
Anglo-French marriage problems begin long before anyone says 'Oui'
Travel
'The stars are aligned': Why now is the time to buy a house in France
National
IN PICTURES: 'Supertide' brings crowds to the French coast
Gallery
French property Face-off: Two luxury chalets in the French Alps
Travel
French coastal towns are braced for the 'tide of the century'
Sponsored Article
Tourist or lifer: what sort of expat are you?
Politics
Socialist rebel MPs are angry but not ready to topple French government
Society
France to welcome another US fast food giant
Culture
Les Entrepreneurs: How to watch Paris theatre shows in English
Culture
So where are all these swinging sex clubs in Paris?
Sport
VIDEO: 'We're racist' - Chelsea fans push black man off Paris Metro
Culture
Sex clubs touted as latest fashion in Paris
Culture
In pictures: The ever-colourful Dunkirk carnival
National
Do you worry about your French accent? Perhaps you have no need to
National
VIDEO: 'Fear and loathing' - Being a Jew in Paris
National
Why the DSK trial could spell bad news for French prostitutes
Society
The sorry recent history of anti-Semitic attacks in France
National
'Je suis Danois' - Paris shows solidarity with Copenhagen
Culture
Obituary: Louis Jourdan - The actor who embodied French elegance
National
France outraged after hundreds of Jewish tombs vandalised
Culture
Romance in France: Sex, Champagne and Je t'aime
Culture
Fox News was right, there are no-go zones in Paris (for anyone single)
Culture
Fifty Shades of Grey OK for French 12-year-olds
Culture
French property face-off: Rustic cottage vs manor
Politics
New Muslim party aims for French election wins
Gallery
What do the French get superstitious about?
International
Paris starts lawsuit over Fox News's no-go zones
National
Gun ads see French cops compared to Dirty Harry
Travel
The world's most popular selfie spot has been revealed...
Sponsored Article
Are you an American expat? How to face FATCA
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