GAO, Mali (AP) — A suicide bomber blew himself up late Saturday night, the second such attack in this northern Malian city since Friday, said a Malian army officer.
The most recent attack occurred Saturday at about 11 p.m. at a checkpoint to enter the city, said Capt. Daouda Diarra. The bomber set off the explosive belt he was wearing, killing himself and injuring a Malian soldier, said Diarra.
The explosion occurred in the same place where an earlier suicide bomber killed himself on Friday morning.
A column of French tanks stood guard at the spot Sunday morning, preventing journalists and spectators from getting close to the site. The bomber’s remains could be seen, including his head in a wheelbarrow and part of his torso in the road by the checkpoint.
Three grenades found near the scene were detonated.
“I am really afraid. You hear about these kinds of things in Pakistan or Afghanistan. Gao is becoming like Pakistan,” said Maoue Dicko, 30, as he sat on his motorcycle.
Malian soldiers are fighting jihadists in their desert hideouts just outside Gao, the country’s defense minister said Saturday.
Defense Minister Yamoussa Camara said that at least two militants were killed during the fighting that took place Friday several miles (kilometers) outside northern Mali’s largest town.
“We call on the population of Gao not to give in to panic and above all to cooperate with defense and security forces to drive out the terrorists who are trying to infiltrate among civilians,” Camara said by telephone from Bamako, the capital.
Although only the bombers themselves were killed in the two suicide attacks on Friday and Saturday, the incidents have increased apprehensions that the Islamic extremists, who withdrew from Gao in the face of French and Malian forces, are implementing a strategy of launching violent attacks on the city. Fears of suicide bombings have been high since the discovery of industrial-strength explosives in Gao last week.
The young man who blew himself up on Friday had been living at a house in Gao that was known as a jihadist hideout. A guard at the home said it had been visited three months ago by the one-eyed terror leader Moktar Belmoktar, who claimed responsibility for the attack in Algeria on the BP-operated natural gas plant in which more than 37 people died.
Other jihadist leaders from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa — known as MUJAO — also had stayed in the luxurious two-story home with a verdant courtyard, which the militants took over when they captured Gao last year, the guard said.
The radical fighters seized control of northern Mali in April 2012 after a military coup in distant Bamako.
France intervened in its former colony on Jan. 11, after the Islamic militants began pushing south, raising alarm that they were inching closer toward the capital.
France has said that it wants to hand over responsibility to the Malian military and other African nations that have contributed troops. It also has raised with the United Nations Security Council the possibility of establishing a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Mali’s military, though, has shown growing signs of strain. On Friday, soldiers from a unit allied with the leader of last year’s military coup stormed the camp of the presidential guard. Two people were killed and 13 others were wounded, according to a statement from the Malian government.
Malian President Dioncounda Traore called the violence a major disappointment to the Malian people “at a time when the main concern of each and every Malian should be the operations we are in the middle of carrying out in the north.”
Associated Press writer Baba Ahmed contributed to this report from Timbuktu, Mali.
Official Wire and AP
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