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Mali troops hunt for rebel holdouts in Gao

House-to-house search leads to arrests of suspected fighters involved in Sunday's surprise attack on northern city.
Last Modified: 12 Feb 2013 04:01


Malian troops have hunted house-to-house in the northern city of Gao for rebels involved in a brazen raid on the city.

Police made two arrests on Monday, according to reports, and one of the men detained was a suspected fighter involved in Sunday's surprise attack.

"The Malians are checking house-by-house, block-by-block," a French officer, who asked not to be named, told reporters.

Soldiers in armoured vehicles also reinforced locations and sandbagged road checkpoints at the entrances to Gao, alert for further attacks from bands of rebels who were reported to be hiding in the surrounding desert scrub.

French and Malian government forces regained control of the strategic city on Sunday. After the attack, rebels hiding in the police central station opened fire on Malian troops, sparking an hours-long street battle.

The surprise strike by the fighters came after two suicide bombers tried to attack military checkpoints on Gao's outskirts.

In response, a French attack helicopter destroyed the police headquarters in Gao in a pre-dawn assault.

Early on Monday, hundreds of Gao residents gathered around the heavily damaged police headquarters where body parts lay strewn about.

Sunday's battle

Fighters from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO, had ruled Gao for nearly 10 months before they were routed out at the end of January.

The rebels, armed with AK-47 automatic rifles, returned to the city by crossing the Niger River in wooden boats to launch their assault on Sunday afternoon, French General Bernard Barrera said citing the Malian military.

 

The gun battles lasted more than five hours.

Malian Lieutenant-Colonel Nema Sagadam said that it was unclear how many fighters had penetrated the city in Sunday's attack, though at least 10 were killed by Malian forces.

Malian soldiers fired on the police building because the fighters were hiding inside, she said.

Two civilians died from bullet wounds, while 10 others were wounded, according to Dr Moulaye Djiteye at the Gao hospital.

The body of a third man was carted away later Monday morning; residents said he had been hit by a stray bullet while riding by on his motorcycle.

Ten other people were treated for their wounds at the hospital, Djiteye said.

The rebels had previously clashed with Malian forces on the outskirts of Gao, but their latest attack was the first time of fighting in the city centre.

The attack highlighted the challenges ahead for the Malian and French forces, who initially drove the fighters out of the city after facing little resistance.

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