Mali Islamist Group Claims Control of Gao, Clashes Leave 26 Dead

Islamist fighters in Mali claimed control of the city of Gao following clashes with Touareg separatists that left at least 26 dead.

Fighters from the Touareg group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad or MNLA, were “chased” out of the northern city because “they were firing at civilians,” Oumar Hamaha, chief of operations of Ansar ud-Din, said by phone today.

“We are controlling the city now,” he said, adding that apart from at least 26 fighters killed on both sides, 19 others were injured. At least 41 people with bullet wounds are receiving treatment at the hospital in Gao, the International Committee of the Red Cross said today in an e-mailed statement.

In April, Touareg separatists seized the north of Mali with the help of Islamist rebels seeking to impose Shariah law in the region. Ansar ud-Din, which means “Defenders of the Faith,” collaborated with the smaller MUJAO in the recent fighting against MNLA, residents said yesterday.

The tomb of Askia near the city of Gao, which is on the United Nations list of world heritage sites, is in danger from the fighting, according to a statement on the website of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

The Islamists have barred all cars and trucks from entering Gao, Issa Idrissa, a resident, said by phone. “It looks like they have sent troop reinforcements,” he said.

Calls made to the mobile phone of Attaye Ag Mohamed, a spokesman for the MNLA, didn’t connect today.

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