The ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali has been hit by a prolonged battle between Islamic extremists and the Malian and French armies.
Fighters linked to al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghrib, or Aqim, attacked the city in northern Mali on Saturday night and continued fighting today, residents and a Malian military spokesman said.
The attack started at about 10pm local time on Saturday when a jihadist suicide bomber blew himself up at a Malian military checkpoint at the western entrance to Timbuktu.
The French military reportedly joined the Malian army yesterday to fight the Islamic radicals.
The attack is the first major operation on the city since it was liberated by French forces on 28 January. Last month, a suicide bomber detonated himself at a checkpoint. That attack did not lead to an infiltration by the extremists into the city, as happened yesterday.
The attacks came as the French President, François Hollande, said on French television on Saturday that French forces had attained their objectives in Mali, a country which until January had lost its northern half to an al-Qa’ida cell and its allies.