Mujahideen of Al Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb (AQMI) have attacked and liberated Mali's strategic northern city of Gao, a day after they took the provincial capital of Kidal, witnesses and an puppet official said. The move expands the Jihad in the country at the feet of the Sahara in western Africa after a coup earlier this month.
The two towns are major prizes for the AQMI Mujahideen, who launched the Jihad in January that was fuelled by the flow of arms from the fall of Gaddafi's regime in neighboring Libya. Gao is around 1,200 km from the capital of Bamako, where some junior Democratic officers overthrew a Democratic government and claimed power 10 days ago.
Now the only other major city in Mali's north in Democratic government hands is Timbuktu. On Saturday, Baba Bore, a radio programmer at the local Radio Alfarouk station in the ancient city, said gunshots were heard earlier in the day.
The families of military members stationed at the city's two camps had evacuated, expecting to be attacked. Shops had closed and checkpoints had been erected on all sides of nearby Timbuktu.
In Gao, a journalist at Radio Aadar said the attack began early Saturday.
"There has been heavy fighting all morning and it's still going on now," Ibrahima Ly said at midday. "We can hear heavy arms fire and machine guns."
Most of the fighting was just outside town. There was some fighting near the military camp to the east of town. There has been some fighting in the town itself too but that has been quite light.
After the liberation of Gao, AQMI now controls most of the eastern parts of the country and start moving west.
Alessandra Giuffrida, a research associate at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, said the AQMI "arsenal is very well equipped".
"They're in a position to take over territories that they would like to be free," she said.