(AP) — A suicide car bomber killed a soldier near Timbuktu’s airport, officials said Thursday, the first such attack in the fabled city where French forces ousted Islamic extremists from power almost two months ago.
The renewed violence heightens security concerns as the French military seeks to hand over its mission to African forces.
Capt. Samba Coulibaly said one Malian soldier was killed and eight others were wounded in the attack Wednesday night.
French military spokesman Col. Thierry Burkhard in Paris said a vehicle containing two jihadists exploded as it attempted to infiltrate the airport.
Following the suicide bombing, French forces came to help the Malian military. The French attacked a vehicle and two Malian soldiers suffered minor injuries, said the French spokesman.
“A French jet was scrambled to support the Malian troops and struck a Malian vehicle, either because it was too close or it was poorly marked,” he said.
The French-led operation that began in January ousted the radical Islamic fighters from the major towns in northern Mali, though many of the extremists went into hiding in the desert.
While they have launched attacks in the northern Mali towns of Gao and Kidal, Wednesday’s suicide bombing marked the first such violence in Timbuktu, which was once a thriving tourist town.
The attack also fuels fears that the Islamic militants will simply regroup once the French start withdrawing troops and handing over security to an African force.
France — a former colonial ruler of Mali — has said it has no intention of keeping troops in Mali for the long term.
France had originally planned on starting to draw down troops in late March, but French President Francois Hollande now says that the gradual pullout of France’s 4,000 troops will start in April.
African Media Agency