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Mali Defends Northern City Against Islamist Attack

Malian forces pushed back rebels attacking a major town after two hours of fighting Saturday.

Working with French-led allied troops, the Malian army recaptured Gao in January after months of occupation by Islamist extremists. Members of the Movement for the Oneness of Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) enforced strict Shariah law during the occupation of the city in northern Mali, resulting in the deaths of civilians.

Residents alerted government troops that insurgents had entered the city past army checkpoints, leading to a confrontation in the city’s Fourth District. Gao Mayor Sadou Diallo confirmed that the Malian army engaged in a firefight with extremists, and that the city was successfully defended.

“There was heavy gunfire. The situation is under control now. The Islamists entered via Quatrieme Quartier, and the army went to meet them and was able to push them back,” Diallo said according to the Associated Press.

“There is another group that entered via the river, but they too were pushed back. It’s under control.”

No death toll was made available after Saturday’s incident. The Malian army is currently receiving support from 4,000 French troops as well as smaller units from foreign allies. Islamist extremists had gained control over a large portion of northern Mali, and had pushed their way toward Bamako, the nation’s capital, before France moved to intervene.

Though the allied forces regained control of Gao and other cities in the north, they have faced sporadic attacks and suicide bombings. Earlier in the week, French President Francois Hollande said that government control would be restored to the rest of the country within the next few days, explaining that the joint offensive was in its last phase. French troops are scheduled to leave the country next month, meaning that the Malian army will be forced to fend for itself moving forward.

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