First Published: 2013-02-11

 

France bombs Islamist targets in northern Mali

 

French army helicopter destroys central police station in Gao as insurgency deepens.

 

Middle East Online

By Serge Daniel - GAO, Mali

It's been one month since France began its offensive in Mali

France bombed Islamist targets in northern Mali on Monday following a string of guerrilla attacks by the extremists a month after Paris launched an offensive to drive them from its former colony.

In a pre-dawn attack, witnesses said a French army helicopter destroyed a central police station in the northern city of Gao from where rebels from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) had opened fire from the station on Malian troops Sunday, sparking an hours-long street battle.

An AFP reporter at the scene said the building was destroyed and body parts were lying in the debris.

One witness said an Islamist fighter inside the building had blown himself up.

Along with back-to-back suicide bombings Friday and Saturday, also claimed by MUJAO, the latest fighting underlined the threat of a deepening insurgency one month after France began its offensive.

France launched its operation on January 11, responding to a cry for help from Mali's interim government by sending in fighter jets, attack helicopters and ground troops to battle Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist groups that had seized control of the north for 10 months and were advancing into southern territory.

The intervention racked up a string of early successes as French-led forces drove the extremists from Gao, Timbuktu and the rest of the towns under their control.

But deadly landmine explosions and the suicide attacks and fighting in Gao show the deep security problems still facing Mali -- and by extension France, which is eager to wind down the operation and hand over to a United Nations peacekeeping mission.

Paris announced last week it would begin bringing its troops home in March, though President Francois Hollande -- who received a hero's welcome when he visited Mali at the beginning of the month -- has promised to stay as long as necessary.

European Union international development and aid ministers are due to meet in the Irish capital Dublin on Monday, with help for Mali high on the agenda.

Sunday's attack was the first large-scale urban guerrilla assault on territory reclaimed by French-led forces.

It started early in the afternoon when Malian soldiers clashed with Islamists in the city centre, near the governor's offices and the police station, which the rebels had used as the headquarters of their "Islamic police" until French-led forces recaptured Gao on January 26.

A witness said the gunmen had hidden in the empty police station then attacked Malian soldiers when they arrived, as snipers hidden in surrounding buildings opened fire.

He said that after a fierce gunbattle, French troops had intervened.

Residents ran 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.

It was not immediately possible to establish a death toll. A Malian army officer said "many" Islamists had been killed.

One security source said several dozen insurgents had been involved in the attack.

Claiming the attack, MUJAO's spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui said: "The combat will continue until victory, thanks to God's protection.

"The mujahedeen are in the city of Gao and will remain there."

Mali imploded after a March 22 coup by soldiers who blamed the government for the army's humiliation at the hands of north African Tuareg fighters, who have long complained of being marginalised by Bamako.

With the capital in disarray, Al-Qaeda-linked fighters hijacked the Tuareg rebellion and took control of the north, imposing a strict vision of Islamic law and punishing offenders with public whippings, amputations and executions.

 

Erdogan asks Americans: Who’s your partner, Turkey or Kurds?

Algeria parliament adopts Bouteflika’s constitutional reforms

Turkey vows to let in Syria refugees 'if necessary'

UAE ready to send ground troops to Syria

Iran carmaker reveals 427 million euros in Peugeot perks

Hamas armed branch executes one of its own members

Syria army advances towards rebel town of Tal Rifaat

Netherlands probes civilian casualties in Iraq air strikes

Tunisia completes construction of Libya border fence

Algeria parliament to vote on constitutional reforms

Egypt returns body of Italian student Giulio Regeni

Iran reverses mass ban on candidates for parliamentary polls

Thousands of Syria refugees brave bad weather at border with Turkey

New photos reveal serious abuse of Iraq prisoners in US facilities

EU reminds Turkey: Keep your border open to Syria refugees

Somalia recaptures key port of Merka from Shebab

Iran warns Saudi Arabia over possible ground action in Syria

Palestinian journalist to keep up hunger strike

Iraq’s Sistani to end weekly political sermons

Shebab fighters recapture key port in Somalia

Syria regime forces close in on Daraa

Israeli leaders slam Arab MPs, refuse to return Palestinian corpses

IS jihadists rise in Libya, drop in Iraq and Syria

World powers pledge $10 billion to help war-hit Syrians

Morocco king inaugurates first solar power plant

Saudi ready to send ground troops to Syria

Israel charges cop for exposing woman's ID

Russia accuses Turkey of preparing to invade Syria

Syria talks were an inevitable failure

Saudi says Iranian pilgrims still welcome

Italy demands truth from Egypt over slain student

Fear stalks Libya's Sirte

US adds $890 million to Syria humanitarian aid effort

Tunisia lifts nationwide curfew

Two Israelis jailed for burning Palestinian teen alive

Sweden expects 100,000 asylum seekers in 2016

Turkey refuses access to Russian flight as Aleppo bombardment continues

40,000 Syrians flee Assad regime's Aleppo offensive

US implicitly blames Russia for collapse of Syria peace talks

Rome summons Egypt’s ambassador over student’s death

Israeli forces lock down West Bank town

Two Algerians 'linked to IS' arrested in Germany

Assad regime accused of undermining Syria peace talks

Top Qaeda chief killed in Yemen drone attack

EU agrees on details of Turkey refugee deal as Italy drops objections