Mali: jihadists attack Timbuktu —again

Malian troops swept Timbuktu for remaining Islamist fighters after a battle that left seven dead and prompted France to send reinforcements and fighter jets April 1. The fighters apparently infiltrated Timbuktu after using a car bomb to create a distraction. The previous day, a suicide bomber blew himself up at a checkpoint outside the city, raising fears of a new wave of violence as the European Union launches an ambitious program to overhaul Mali’s army. “Objectively, it must be entirely rebuilt,” said French general Francois Lecointre, who heads the EU training mission in Mali.

On March 21, a suicide bomber blew up a car near the Timbuktu airport at the start of an overnight assault on the city. One Malian soldier was killed in the blast. Around 10 Islamist fighters were killed in the ensuing clash with French and Malian forces. That assault was claimed by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), which said it had “opened a new front in Timbuktu.” That was the first time the city had come under attack since French-led forces took it on Jan. 28. No group has yet claimed this past weekend’s attack. (Middle East Online, Al Jazeera, April 1; Al Jazeera, March 31)

The secular Tuareg separatist rebels of the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) seem to have been granted at least token autonomy over Kidal, the northern city that they jointly control with French and Malian forces (see map). An MNLA spokesman told AFP by phone that Mohamed Ali ag-Albessaty, previously a local government functionary, has been appointed as the rebel group’s “administrator to manage the city of Kidal.” (AFP, March 28)