After a brief window of calm on Sunday, fighting continued Monday in Mali’s Timbuktu as French and Malian soldiers went door to door to root out Islamist fighters who had infiltrated the city.
Fighting continued for a third day in the north Malian city of Timbuktu on Monday, as French and Malian soldiers went house to house searching for al-Qaeda-linked Islamist extremists who infiltrated the town over the weekend.
A Malian army spokesman said the jihadists had taken cover behind the military camp in the town centre and in alleyways next to the 14th century Djingareyber Mosque.
Three jihadists were killed on Monday, making a total of 11 killed since the offensive started late Saturday night.
The French Defense Ministry said in a statement that Mirage and Rafale jets had flown over the city to hunt down fighters fleeing to the northwest direction.
FRANCE AT WAR IN MALI
Around 50 French soldiers were dispatched to reinforce the Malian forces.
Monday’s mopping-up operation followed a suicide bombing at an army checkpoint on Saturday that sparked a weekend of fierce fighting in the fabled Saharan city.
Militants took advantage of the confusion to infiltrate Timbuktu, which French and Malian soldiers recaptured from Islamist rebels in January after a 10-month occupation.
One Malian soldier was killed in the fighting, officials said.
An army source requesting anonymity said a Nigerian civilian who had been taken hostage also died during a shoot-out between Malian troops and his captor - an Islamist rebel seen wearing a bomb-belt who had holed up in a house in the northern part of the city.
It was unclear whether the pair had been killed in the firefight or the hostage-taker had detonated his belt.
In a statement published on the Mauritanian al-Sharq website on Monday, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) took responsibility for the attack, raising fears that the Islamist group’s local forces were regrouping and had not been silenced by France’s three-month operation to win north Mali back from the militants.
Mali has been the target of a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military operation in January against militant groups occupying the north of the country.
The French-led operation has forced the extremists from the cities they seized in the chaotic aftermath of a military coup that overthrew Mali's government in March 2012.
But French and African forces have faced continuing suicide blasts and guerrilla attacks in reclaimed territory.
On March 21, a suicide bomber blew up a car near the Timbuktu airport at the start of an overnight assault on the city.
One Malian soldier died in the blast. Around 10 Islamist fighters were killed in the ensuing fighting with French and Malian forces.
The March assault was claimed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), one of three Islamist groups that had seized the north.
MUJAO said it had "opened a new front in Timbuktu", which had not come under attack since French-led forces entered the city on January 28.
(FRANCE24 with wires)
Date created : 2013-04-01