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.

 

US admits IS most dangerous terror group it faced in recent years

Europe launches fresh UN bid to end Gaza conflict

Tougher penalties as UAE updates counter-terrorism law

Iraq Kurds launch offensive to retake Jalawla from IS

British jihadists on forefront on IS propaganda

Hammond: Britain will not work with Assad to combat IS

Gunmen open fire at Iraqi worshippers during Friday prayers

Abbas holds talks with Meshaal for second day

33 killed in fatal Egypt resort coach collision

Abbas holds talks with Meshaal in Doha

Iraq Kurds face real challenges in fight against IS jihadists

Death toll in Syria war tops 180,000

France delivered arms to Syrian rebels 'a few months ago'

US reveals failed operation to rescue American hostages in Syria

Somali journalists face trial for ‘violence incitement’

Iran asks West: What is our reward for help against IS jihadists?

Turkey ruling party meets to agree Davutoglu as PM

Kuwait nabs suspected Al-Nusra Front financier

Obama demands world action against jihadist ‘cancer’

Three senior Ezzedine al-Qassam Brigades commanders killed in Gaza

Hamas armed wing declares end to truce talks in Cairo

Tribal clashes kill dozens of people in troubled Darfur

Dubai real estate giant to repay debt four years ahead

Egypt hopes power cuts could ease next week

Jihadist beheading of US journalist sparks worldwide revulsion

Iran provides ‘advice’ to Kurds fighting IS jihadists in Iraq

Power cuts and petrol shortages: Life grows increasingly difficult in Libya

Suspected attack by Kurdish rebels kills one Turkish soldier

UN launches huge aid operation in northern Iraq

Israel pounds Gaza as mourners cry ‘revenge’

Outgoing first lady breaks silence on ‘falsehoods’ against Turkey President

Ex CIA boss: journalist's killing 'first IS terrorist attack against US

Scores of armed Yemen rebels boost positions in capital

Sinai jihadists punish supporters of Egypt army with decapitation

Germany ready to support Iraq Kurds in battle against ‘barbaric’ IS

Iran’s 'reformist' science minister sacked

Turkey assures Ocalan Kurdish peace process will press ahead

Hollande: international situation ‘most serious’ since 2001

Israeli minister: ‘Deif deserves to die’

German minister accuses Qatar of financing IS

US hits back at criticism of Ferguson racial unrest

Jihadists to US: stop air strikes or we will behead second reporter

Temporary Gaza ceasefire goes up in smoke

Islamic State in Syria: Not few brainwashed people but whole army

Egypt to US: Show us how you deal with unrest in Ferguson