A SUSPECTED al-Qaeda-linked militant blew himself up near a military checkpoint on the outskirts of Gao, Mali, yesterday in the first suicide bombing attack since the French-led mission began, fuelling fears of a looming insurgency by the jihadists who fled into the desert two weeks ago.
French and Malian forces faced little resistance in initially taking back the provincial capital of Gao, but the discovery of explosives and yesterday’s bombing suggest the Islamic radicals are far from defeated.
The Malian military blamed yesterday’s bombing on the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa – a group known as MUJAO which had ruled Gao for nearly 10 months before being ousted at the end of last month. The suicide bomber was the only one killed, said the Malian military.
The attack came as French forces surged into the country’s far north near the border with Algeria overnight on Thursday, retaking Tessalit. French military spokesman Colonel Thierry Burkhard confirmed yesterday that French and Chadian forces were in control of the town and airport of Tessalit after an overnight assault.
However, the success of Tessalit was overshadowed by the attack in Gao as well as clashes between soldiers in the capital in Mali’s south.
The suicide bomber ignited his explosives belt just after 6am near a military checkpoint, according to Malian military spokesman, Modibo Traore.
Residents said the bomber was known as Al Farouk, who was described as an Arab man aged about 18. They said he had been living in a MUJAO hideout in Gao for seven months. The building had been visited by Moktar Belmoktar, the Algerian national who has long operated in Mali and who claimed responsibility for the terrorist attack on a BP-operated gas plant in Algeria.
In Bamako, the capital, Mali’s military showed signs of growing tensions after soldiers from a unit allied with the leader of last year’s military coup in Mali stormed the camp of the presidential guard yesterday morning.
At least one person was killed and five were wounded, witnesses said. The incident underscores that Mali’s military is in poor shape to confront the well-armed Islamic extremists in the north.
Dr Amadou Diallo, who works at the infirmary in the camp, known as Djicoroni Para Camp, said at least one person was killed and five others were wounded.
“A young man in his 20s was hit by a bullet in the head and he died on the spot. The bullet pierced his face through his right cheekbone, and came out through his neck,” he said. “There are also two women who were wounded, and three children, aged 11, 17 and around 15 years old.”