On the night of February 20, gunshots and explosions rang throughout the night in Mali’s northern town of Gao. The Malian military said that the checkpoint leading to Bourem had been attacked – the very same checkpoint that saw two suicide bomb attacks in the past two weeks.
The next morning, members of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), a radical rebel group with links to al-Qaeda, had taken over the mayor’s office and city hall, and engaged in a fierce firefight with the Malian and French military. The ensuing battle lasted for five hours in the downtown Gao area.
The battle was the second one to rock Gao since the French military intervened last month to drive out al-Qaeda linked groups from the region.
France intervened in its former West African colony on January 11 to stop a southward offensive by the rebels who seized control of vast swaths of the north in April last year.
While things have calmed down in Gao in the days after, it’s almost certain that the rebels are regrouping in neighbouring towns that have not been yet secured by Malian and French forces, preparing for more guerrilla-style attacks.
For now, the residents of Gao are holding their breath.