DAKAR — An apparent suicide bomber struck in the northern Malian town of Timbuktu Wednesday. News agencies report at least two dead, one Malian soldier and the bomber.
Timbuktu residents say an explosion rocked the town during the night of Wednesday to Thursday.
The explosion reportedly came from a car near the Timbuktu airport where French and Malian troops are stationed. It was not immediately clear whether the car was laden with explosives or the bomber was wearing a belt.
Malian military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Diarran Kone told VOA that the bombing appeared to have been part of a larger raid.
He said that the perpetrators were "terrorists who wanted to infiltrate" the area.
French and Malian troops were able to repel the attackers.
Timbuktu residents told VOA that gunfire began around 11 Wednesday night and continued until early Thursday morning.
This resident, identified by his last name Oumar, told VOA by phone from Timbuktu that he heard a "large boom" and gunfire, including heavy weapons, coming from the direction of the airport. He said he heard French planes flying overhead until the early morning hours. He said he and his family, unsure of what was happening, remained sheltered in their home until morning.
French, Malian and Chadian troops have been fighting al-Qaida-linked Islamist militants in northern Mali for nearly ten weeks. France intervened after the militants, who seized control of the region last April, tried to move south in January.
The attack on Timbuktu Wednesday would mark the town's first suicide bombing and highlights fears of a stubborn "hit and run" guerrilla war to come in northern Mali.
France has said it will withdraw its troops, leaving Malian troops and a multi-nation African force to fight the militants.