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.

 

Iraq Kurds start voting in historic independence referendum

Erdogan threatens Iraqi Kurds with border closure, oil block

US-led strikes killed 84 civilians near Syria's Raqa

Iran shuts border with Iraqi Kurdistan

Dubai set to become first city with flying taxis

UAE announces plans for region’s first nuclear reactor

Putin to visit Erdogan this week for Syria, Iraq talks

Sudan vows to step up efforts to improve US ties

Turkey to launch intervention into Syria — and maybe into Iraq

Egyptian ‘world’s heaviest woman’ dies in Abu Dhabi

Palestinian unity government remains unlikely

Emirati man fights his employer to serve in country’s army

Palestinian PM to visit Gaza next week

Saudi advisory body to tackle female driving ban

Turkey denies closing Iraqi border in response to Kurdish vote

US air strikes kill 17 Islamic State militants in Libya

Yemen's Hadi says military solution 'most likely'

The high cost of Syria’s destruction

Palestinian negotiator awaits lung transplant in US

Kurds ready for contentious vote in Iraq

A Kurdish state: Reality or utopia?

Saudi intercepts missile fired from Yemen

Saudi Arabia marks national day with fireworks, concerts

Iran defies US, tests missile

Turkey warns of 'security' steps in response to Iraqi Kurd vote

Barzani delays Kurdish independence vote announcement

Syria's war off the radar at UN assembly

For many Iraqis, tradition trumps police

Darfur clashes kill 3 as Bashir urges reconciliation

Saudi cleric banned for saying women have ‘quarter’ brain

Veteran Syrian activist, daughter assassinated in Istanbul

Tunisia drops forced anal exams for homosexuality

Bomb used in Saudi-led strike on Yemen children US-made

Syria Kurds vote to cement federal push

Police charge teenager over London Underground attack

Nigerian official to meet Turkish counterpart over illegal guns

Thousands feared trapped in Raqa as IS mounts last stand

Iraqi forces achieve first step in new offensive on IS

Migrant boat sinks off Turkish Black Sea coast leaving four dead, 20 missing

Trump praises 'friend' Erdogan

Yemen leader promises UN to open entire country to aid

Rouhani vows Iran will boost missiles despite US criticism

Russia clashes with EU over Syria

UN Security Council warns against holding Iraqi Kurd vote

UN sets up probe of IS war crimes in Iraq