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Suicide bomber strikes northern Malian checkpoint


A suicide bomber blew himself up at the checkpoint near the northern Malian city of Gao Friday in an attack claimed by an al Qaeda-linked group. There were no other casualties.


A suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint near the northern Malian city of Gao Friday in the first known suicide attack since a French-led military intervention liberated the major northern Malian cities.

Reporting from the central Malian town of Douentza, FRANCE 24’s Eve Irvine said a senior Malian military official confirmed that “a young man on a motorbike detonated an explosive as he approached a Malian army checkpoint just 15 kilometers outside Gao.”

While a Malian soldier was “lightly injured” in the attack, the suicide bomber was the only known casualty.

Hours after the attack, the al Qaeda-linked group, MUJAO (Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa) claimed the attack, according to AFP news agency, and has vowed further attacks against “the infidels and their accomplices”.

French-led forces take Tessalit

The suicide attack occurred as French forces further north took control of Tessalit, one of the last bastions of the Islamist rebels in the remote northeastern part of Mali near the Algerian border.

Click on map to enlarge

The overnight operation on Tessalit saw French special forces parachute into the local airport followed by other French and Chadian soldiers who arrived on a transport plane, according to French military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard.

French and Chadian troops are pushing into the mountainous Ifoghas region in northeastern Mali, where Islamist rebels are believed to have fled the French-led military assault.

Almost a month after the January 11 launch of the French military offensive, the major northern Malian cities of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal are under French and Malian control.

But Friday’s suicide bombing near Gao, which was recaptured on January 26, underscores the ongoing instability and the threat of terrorist attacks in the region.

Clashes between Malian army factions in Bamako

Meanwhile in the capital of Bamako, located in the south, gunfire erupted between rival factions of the Malian army as soldiers attacked a camp of elite paratroopers loyal to ousted Malian president Amadou Toumani Touré.

At least one person was killed and many more were injured in the attack, according to FRANCE 24 correspondent Fabien Offner.

The gunfight, which exposed the weakness of the Malian military, occurred as the first EU military trainers arrived in Bamako to try to whip the Malian army into shape to face the Islamists.

The military coup was sparked by dissatisfaction in the ranks after the ramshackle army was humiliated in the north by well-armed Tuareg fighters who launched an independence rebellion in January 2012.

On March 2012, Malian army Captain Amadou Sanogo - supported by a group of soldiers called the “Green Berets” - ousted Touré only to lose control of the North to Tuareg and Islamist militants.

A month after the coup, the "Red Berets" – comprised of an elite presidential guard - launched a failed counter-coup, which left about 20 people dead.

On Friday morning, witnesses said “Green Beret” soldiers arrived at the Djicoroni Para Camp in Bamako, where the Red Beret presidential guard is based, and tried to enter the camp.

“Since 6 a.m., the soldiers have been arriving in armored cars and pickup trucks, all of them armed to the teeth to attack our base,” a witness told the Associated Press. “The women and children tried to stop them from entering the camp. They shot tear gas at us and started shooting volleys in the air,'' said the woman who lives in the military camp. The camp includes housing for military families.

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