A car bomb has killed two Senegalese UN peacekeepers and destroyed the only operating bank in the northern Malian town of Kidal, one day before a second round of parliamentary elections.
No one has claimed responsibility for Saturday's attack on the Malian Solidarity Bank, which was being guarded by Mali's army and the UN peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA.
A vehicle in front of the bank is in flames after the explosion. There is a huge amount of black smoke in the sky hanging over the town.
"A car bomb targetted MINUSMA forces and the Malian army who were guarding the building of the Malian Solidarity Bank in the centre of Kidal," said a statement by MINUSMA, which condemned the attack.
"The explosion caused the death of two Senegalese blue helmets and also caused a number of serious injuries among the ranks of the Malian national guard and MINUSMA," the statement added.
Some fighters linked to al-Qaeda are still holding out in the north nearly a year after the start of a French offensive aiming to drive them from the desert region they occupied for most of 2012 after hijacking a Tuareg separatist rebellion.
A military source said MINUSMA troops were guarding the outside of the bank while the Malians protected the inside.
"A vehicle in front of the bank is in flames after the explosion. There is a huge amount of black smoke in the sky hanging over the town," resident Ibrahim Maiga said. Another resident, Youssouf Toure, said the bank was reduced to rubble.
It was not clear whether the bank was open for business at the time.
Stepping up attacks
The Tuareg rebels, who demand an independent homeland they call Azawad, ended a five-month ceasefire on November 29, a day after Malian troops clashed with stone-throwing protesters who blocked a visit by the prime minister to Kidal.
The French-led offensive scattered armed groups across Mali and into neighbouring countries but the groups have stepped up operations in recent months, attacking UN peacekeepers and killing two French journalists in Kidal last month.
The Tuaregs seized control of Kidal after the French offensive had driven armed groups out of the town, leading to tensions with the government in Bamako.
Under a June peace pact that allowed the army to return to Kidal, rebels are still inside the town but are required to return to their barracks under UN supervision, stop carrying arms in public and dismantle all roadblocks.