Mali army and Islamist rebels clash in Gao
Clashes erupted Sunday between Islamist militants and the army in the northern Malian city of Gao, where suicide bombers have also targeted troops, a military source said, dpa reported.
The small group of rebels was likely from the Mujao militia, one of three Islamist groups which overran northern Mali early last year and have been pushed back by a French-led military campaign.
The Islamist militants, whose main forces have retreated into the desert, have sent suicide bombers into Gao to target the soldiers, with two incidents reported in two days.
Soldiers late Saturday shot and killed a man wearing explosives at a checkpoint in Gao, the army and witnesses said. There were conflicting reports on whether the explosives went off.
He was the second suicide attacker in Mali since France launched its offensive on January 11 against the Islamist rebels who were advancing on the capital Bamako in the south.
On Friday, a man on a motorcycle blew himself up, injuring several people. Mujao claimed responsibility for the attack.
The rebels are currently on the back foot, having ceded most of their urban strongholds and airports to allied French, Malian and other African troops.
The fighters, estimated to number several thousand, are suspected of trying to regroup in the remote desert of northern Mali, hiding in mountain ranges.
There are still believed to be some pockets of resistance in the north, and witnesses said Malian troops were conducting search operations in villages near Gao.
There is growing concern about the use of asymmetrical warfare by the rebels, who are accused of planting landmines and staging attacks which have killed both Malian soldiers and civilians. dpa str shg fxz bve Authors: Diakaridia Moustapha and Shabtai Gold