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Islamic extremists attack Timbuktu in north Mali

31 March 2013, 15:30

Bamako - Islamic extremist fighters have attacked the Malian army camp in Timbuktu in northern Mali, said a Malian military spokesman on Sunday.

The gunfire between the fighters linked to al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and the Malian army started late Saturday night and has continued into Sunday, said Capt. Samba Coulibaly, spokesman for the Malian military in Timbuktu.

The attack started Saturday night at about 10 p.m. local time when a jihadist suicide bomber blew himself up at a Malian military checkpoint at the western entrance to Timbuktu, he said.

"The jihadist was on foot and died on the spot, but his explosives lightly injured one of our soldiers," said Coulibaly.

"The jihadists are a few. They sneaked into the military camp and the city of Timbuktu. There is shooting at the moment, but we'll get to the end," said a Malian soldier at an entrance to the city, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

"Since the bomb attack, the jihadists have continued to attack us through the night until this morning. They have their cars outside the city. You cannot see them because the cars are hidden behind the sand dunes and trees. The exchange of fire continued, and we have not yet seen the French military come to rescue us," said another Malian soldier, who refused to give his name because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The Islamic radicals moved to the high school, near the army camp in the city, said Timbuktu Mayor Ousmane Halle. "Traffic is prohibited in the city, I stayed home," said Halle. "People are really scared, but it is mostly due to the lack of information about what is happening in the city."

This is the second time that Timbuktu has been attacked by armed Islamic fighters since January when they retreated from the city in the face of French and Malian troops.

In a separate incident, a Malian army vehicle drove over a land mine during a patrol Saturday around 110 kilometers (70 miles) from the northern Malian town of Ansongo, killing two people on board, said the Malian military.

The attacks come as French President Francois Hollande said on French television that French forces had attained their objectives in Mali, a country which until January had lost its northern half to an al-Qaida cell and their allies. When the extremists began advancing southward in early 2013, Hollande unilaterally authorized a military intervention which quickly pushed the Islamic extremists from the main cities in Mali's north. Outside the heavily fortified cities like Timbuktu, however, the jihadists are still present, leading an insurgency marked by suicide bombings, land mines and attacks on the cities.

For 10 months until this January, Timbuktu as well as much of the rest of northern Mali was ruled by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, as well as two other jihadist groups allied with the terror network.

- AP


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