Civilians killed in attack on French anti-terror force in northern Mali
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A bomb-laden car on Sunday rammed into a patrol convoy carrying soldiers belonging to the French counter-terror force Barkhane in the northern Malian city of Gao, killing at least four civilians, officials said.
The Malian defence ministry said that in addition to the deaths, at least 31 people, including eight French soldiers, were injured in the attack near the northern exit of the city.
The ministry had initially said that French soldiers were among the dead, but they later revised that statement. A French army spokesman confirmed that a patrol of around 30 soldiers had come under attack in Gao on Sunday and that there were a number of civilians killed, but would not immediately give more details.
Anonymous sources told Reuters that the car bomb attack had been followed by a near 15-minute long shoot-out between the attackers and the soldiers.
"There are several injured among the French soldiers who were travelling in two vehicles and which were completely destroyed in the explosion. Their base has been evacuated."
Photos posted on social media showed black smoke billowing from an armoured vehicle surrounded by debris on a sandy road.
No one has claimed responsibility for the attack which comes as over 40 African heads of state are meeting for an African Union summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott with security high on the agenda.
On Friday, a suicide attack on the Mali headquarters of a regional Sahel force known as G5 killed two soldiers and a civilian.
France has deployed around 4,500 French troops in West Africa's Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane aimed at tackling Islamist militants in the region.
The Sahel region with its huge expanse of remote desert is home to several jihadist groups. The area has seen several armed attacks on targets in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast in recent years.
France began a military intervention in Mali in January 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who hijacked a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)