Two suicide bombers let off explosives in a car in front of a military camp in the northern Malian desert city of Timbuktu on Saturday, killing two civilians, military sources said.
“Two suicide bombers on board a car exploded next to our military camp. They are both dead. There were two civilians in a horsecart who were also killed. We are in a state of high alert,” a Malian soldier at the camp told AFP.
An African military source from the United Nations’ MINUSMA peacekeeping mission confirmed the attack, the first suicide bombing in the mainly Tuareg and Arab northern caravan town since March.
“Suicide bombers have infiltrated Timbuktu. They came to the camp to blow up their vehicle and they died,” he said.
Mali has been the target of a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military operation in January against al-Qaeda-linked groups occupying the north of the country.
The French-led operation forced the extremists from the cities they seized in the chaotic aftermath of a military coup that overthrew Mali’s government in March 2012.
Residual groups of these fighters are no longer able to carry out coordinated assaults, but they are still capable of regular small-scale attacks, mainly against Malian and French soldiers.
On March 21, a suicide bomber blew up a car near the Timbuktu airport at the start of an overnight assault on the city, killing a Malian soldier.
Saturday’s attack came a day after two men threw hand-grenades at Malian troops in the ethnic-Tuareg northern rebel bastion of Kidal, wounding two soldiers.
Both incidents follow the suspension of peace talks on Thursday between Tuareg and Arab rebels who want autonomy for northern Mali and the government.
The Tuareg National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) took control of Kidal in February after the French-led military operation ousted al-Qaeda-linked fighters who had piggybacked on the latest Tuareg rebellion to seize most of northern Mali.
The al-Qaeda-backed militants had chased out their former MNLA allies and imposed a brutal form of Islamic law.
The Malian authorities reclaimed the city after signing a ceasefire deal with the MNLA in June but the situation has remained tense.
The June 18 Ouagadougou accord between the rebels and the government allowed the Mali military to return to Kidal to prepare the way for presidential elections in July which brought Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to power.
Under the deal signed in Burkina Faso, the government and rebels agreed to respect the country’s territorial integrity and to hold peace talks, focused on the status of northern Mali, which the Tuareg movements call Azawad.
But the rebels said on Thursday the government had not kept to its commitment under the deal to start prisoner releases, and announced they were pulling out.
The central government is unwilling to discuss autonomy for northern Mali and there have been sporadic clashes between Malian troops and local populations in the desert region since the deal was signed.
Military: suicide bombers target army camp in northern Mali