Conflict & Justice

Mali conflict: First suicide bombing since start of French-led intervention


A local truck passes a convoy of French army vehicles heading toward Gao on February 7.

A suicide bomber blew himself up at a military checkpoint in northern Mali on Friday, marking the first suicide attack since the start of the French-led offensive to oust the Islamist extremists from the north.

The incident happened in Gao, northern Mali's most populous city, where troops from France, Mali and Niger have been patrolling the streets and manning checkpoints since driving out the rebels.

The suicide bomber "approached us on a motorbike, he was a Tamashek (Tuareg), and as he came closer he set off his belt," First Sergeant Mamadou Keita told Agence France-Presse.

"He died immediately and among us, one was injured."

The attack occurred around 6 a.m. local time. "It shook so loudly I thought it had hit my house," AFP reported resident Agali Ouedraogo as saying.

More from GlobalPost: Mali: First the war, now the crisis

The attack's significance lay not in the damage done but in what it augurs for the next phase of the war.

Mali's jihadists are largely offshoots and allies of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has tended to specialise in kidnapping and smuggling. However, security officials in the United States and elsewhere have warned of strengthening ties with Islamists in Nigeria and Somalia, where suicide attacks, bombings and assassinations are more common. Those tactics appear to be coming to Mali.

The French military intervention began on Jan. 11. Soundly defeated by French air strikes and ground forces during the last three weeks, the jihadists have fled into the remote desert and rugged mountains of the north.

Unable to win a traditional war, the Islamists may be launching an insurgency that could feature the Al Qaeda hallmarks of suicide attacks, improvised explosive devices and targeted assassinations. Today's bombing suggests that far from being over, the war in Mali may just be beginning.