One of the main Islamist armed groups in northern Mali said Thursday it had sent fighters back into Gao, a city it controlled for nine months before French and Malian troops recaptured it last month.
"Our fighters entered Gao on Wednesday," Abu Walid Sahraoui, a spokesman for the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) told AFP.
Local military sources and an AFP correspondent reported heavy clashes pitting Malian soldiers against a group of around 40 jihadists in northern Mali's largest city on Thursday.
"Our troops have been ordered to attack. If the enemy is stronger, we'll pull back only to return stronger, until we liberate Gao," the spokesman said.
He did not specify how many MUJAO forces had entered Gao, a city which French and Malian government forces reconquered on January 26, two weeks after Paris launched an offensive in the north.