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Islamic militants shell town of Gao in northern Mali

Islamic militants have shelled the largest town in the north of Mali. It was the first such attack in months, following the French-led military operation to drive them out of the area.

Two houses in the town of Gao were hit and at least one Malian soldier was wounded as shells were launched from a distance by suspected Islamic militants.

Hubert de Quievrecourt, a spokesman for the French-led Operation Serval, said at least five mortar shells hit the town around 6:30 a.m. local time (0630 UTC) Monday morning. Troops were sent to the place where the shell-fire had been launched.

The attack came nine days after a suicide bombing in Timbuktu, the other main town in the north of Mali, which killed at least two civilians, wounded seven soldiers and killed the four bombers, according to the government. The al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) group claimed responsibility for that attack.

AQIM emerged in Algeria and operates across borders in the sub-Saharan Sahel region. It is not taking part in the peace talks between the Mali government and Tuareg separatist rebels along with two associated Arab groups.

Al Qaeda-linked fighters seized control of Gao and other northern Malian cities in April 2012 and instituted Shariah law. A French-led military operation in January forced the fighters out of the region. There are still some 3,000 French troops in the region working alongside the Malian army and a UN African force (MINUSMA) of 6,000 men.

jm/kms (Reuters, AFP)