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Malian, French Forces Repel Islamist Assault on Gao

  • VOA News

A French tank is seen heading north at the tail end of a 60-plus military convoy in Gao, northern Mali, February 6, 2013.

A French tank is seen heading north at the tail end of a 60-plus military convoy in Gao, northern Mali, February 6, 2013.

French and Malian soldiers are on high alert in the northern town of Gao, a day after Islamist militants launched an assault to retake the city they were forced out of two weeks ago.

Residents who hid in their homes during the hours-long attack Sunday, cautiously entered the streets still littered with corpses.

Authorities report the crossfire killed three civilians and wounded at least 10 others, but it is still unclear how many soldiers or militants died.

Heavy gunfire and explosions resounded Sunday through the Saharan town, the largest in northern Mali, as the combined government force, complete with French helicopter gunships, fought the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa.

Clashes were ongoing for days in areas just outside the city. Saturday and Friday suicide bombers attacked an army checkpoint near the entrance to Gao. The two suicide blasts were the first in Mali.

The Malian military said the bomber in Saturday's attack was a young Arab man and the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa claimed responsibility.

The militant group seized control of Gao in April and had ruled the city until the arrival of French and Malian forces last month. Military officials have said some elements of the group remain in the Gao area, and other fighters are hiding in the surrounding desert.

The group is a splinter faction of al-Qaida's North African wing which, in loose alliance with the home-grown Malian Islamist group Ansar Dine, held Mali's main northern towns of Timbuktu and Gao for 10 months until the French-led offensive drove them out.
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