Suicide bombing kills Mali soldier in Timbuktu


A still from a video shows Islamist militants sitting on the ground with their weapons after destroying an ancient shrine in Timbuktu on July 1, 2012. Islamist rebels in northern Mali smashed four more tombs of ancient Muslim saints in Timbuktu on July 1.



NAIROBI, Kenya — A suicide car bombing killed a Mali soldier and wounded six others in an overnight raid on the Timbuktu airport.

"It happened at the Malian army checkpoint, just before the French checkpoint ... we are mopping up to see if there are any other attackers in the area," said Captain Samba Coulibaly, spokesman for Mali's army in Timbuktu, according to Reuters.

It was the first suicide bombing in Timbuktu since forces from Mali and France ran al Qaeda-linked militants out of the city nearly two months ago.

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"There were about 30 attackers ... It took a while but the result was good," a French officer in Mali said. He did not say if any of the attackers were killed or captured.

Suicide bombings have become a signature of Mali's Al Qaeda aligned militants since French soldiers began occupying towns in the north of the country in late January. Suicide attackers have struck in the remote towns of Gao and Kidal, but this is the first time the tactic has been employed in Timbuktu.

Wednesday's suicide bombing was partly strategic. The explosion killed one Malian soldier and wounded eight others at a military checkpoint, and served as a diversion for about 30 armed militants who sought, unsuccessfully, to infiltrate Timbuktu airport. The French army said that around 10 Islamists were killed in the ensuing firefight.

That the jihadists would employ Al Qaeda-style guerrilla tactics once they were ousted from urban areas was predicted. But their frequency and tenacity will give France pause as it plans to begin withdrawing troops in the weeks ahead.