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Islamic rebels fire rockets at military in Mali

Friday - 2/22/2013, 8:20am  ET

BABA AHMED
Associated Press

BAMAKO, Mali (AP) -- Jihadist fighters fired two rockets at military points in Mali's northern city of Gao on Thursday after the military pushed fighters out of the city a day earlier and as a suicide bomber attacked secular rebels near Algeria's border, officials said.

Capt. Daouda Diarra said Thursday there was also shooting on the north side of the city.

He said the rockets were likely launched by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO.

"The jihadist have fired two rockets on us that we have recovered," Diarra said. "This is a small group and we will dislodge them and track the rest of the group who have fled 21 kilometers (13 miles) east of Gao on board seven vehicles."

Fighters with the al-Qaida-linked group had attacked a Gao checkpoint on Wednesday and fought with the military around the Town Hall in the city center on Thursday. Diarra said 16 jihadists were killed in the fighting and six soldiers were wounded.

Meanwhile, further north in Kidal, a suicide car bombing killed at least one secular Tuareg rebel, the mayor of Kidal said.

Abda Ag Kazina said that a suicide car bomber targeted a base for the secular National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or NMLA, near the country's border with Algeria.

The Tuaregs and Islamic extremists made rapid advances on Mali's north in the aftermath of a March 2012 coup, seizing the main cities in the north. Poorly armed and demoralized Malian soldiers fled before their advance.

But the secular fighters fell out with the Islamist extremists. As the extremists have fled the French bombing campaign, it appears the NMLA fighters have moved back into some areas.

The jihadist group MUJAO claimed responsibility for another car explosion Thursday at a mechanics garage in Kidal about 800 meters (875 yards) from a French military base.

French and Chadian forces are patrolling the city of Kidal, though it remains unclear if the northern administrative capital is secure.

Radical Islamic fighters spent weeks on the run from Malian cities under a French ground and air assault that began Jan. 11 after the rebels had pushed to southern territories. The French, meanwhile, are tightening a dragnet against the al-Qaida-linked militants in one of their last remaining redoubts, mountain sanctuaries near Algeria's border.

France has said it will eventually pull out of its Mali operation so that African forces can help stabilize the West African country.

U.N. discussions about an African force for Mali have been under way for months, alongside efforts for a European Union training mission to help the Malian military.


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