BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Suspected radical Islamic militants fired a series of mortar shells early Monday on the northern Malian town of Gao, residents said, marking the first such attack in months after the French-led military operation drove the jihadists from power.
At least five mortar shells hit the town around 6:30 a.m., said Hubert de Quievrecourt, a spokesman for the French-led Operation Serval. A Malian soldier was seriously wounded in the violence, and six other people suffered injuries, residents said.
Quievrecourt declined to speculate on who may have been responsible, though suspicion immediately fell on the remnants of the al-Qaida-linked group that controlled Gao until late January.
MUJAO, or the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, has claimed responsibility for a series of attacks in and around Gao since their ouster. The area, though, has been relatively calm since late March when a dozen fighters entered the city and clashes left four civilians dead.
A Malian soldier was severely wounded in attack and remained in a coma after suffering shrapnel wounds to his head, said Dr. Dounake Diarra, the head of Gao's hospital.
Six other people suffered injuries from the attack, said local journalist Malik Alousseine.
"We know that the radical Islamic militants are not far and we know that they are not giving up," he said. "We are really worried especially with legislative elections coming up."
Resident Amadou Fall said Monday that people were fearful of renewed violence and angry that militants had been able to once again attack even with the presence of Malian and French forces on the ground.
"There lacks a will to protect the population here," he said several hours after the mortar shells fell. "We are not proud of our military."
The al-Qaida-linked jihadists seized control of Gao and other northern Malian cities in April 2012 and instituted their brutal interpretation of Islamic law known as Shariah. MUJAO meted out amputations as punishments for theft, and publicly whipped people for infractions ranging from smoking cigarettes to women going out in public without a veil.
Gao was liberated in late January by French-led forces, though the militants then sought refuge in nearby villages from where they attempted to launch a series of attacks.
Timbuktu, another northern provincial capital, also has come under siege in recent weeks. A suicide car bombing attack in late September killed two civilians and wounded seven others there.
Larson reported from Dakar, Senegal.