Two wounded in car bombing near French army camp in Mali

At least two civilians were wounded on Thursday in an apparent car bombing near a military camp housing French and Chadian troops in restive northern Mali, local officials and security sources told AFP.

The vehicle "exploded around 500 metres (yards) from the camp occupied by the French and the Chadians," a local official said, with a security source confirming the information.

"Two civilians were wounded, they are at the hospital. No one has yet approached the vehicle to see if the driver was still alive."

An official in the Kidal governor's office said that the vehicle exploded "less than a kilometre (half a mile) from the camp housing the Chadians and the French".

He added that the driver was probably a "kamikaze" who was "targeting the camp", but "he blew up his black car in a courtyard. There was a loud noise."

France and Chad have intervened in Mali to help the transitional authorities fight armed Islamists who seized the vast north of the sub-Saharan country in the wake of a coup in the capital Bamako in March last year, which left Mali's ramshackle army in disarray.

French troops gained control of Kidal airport, 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from Bamako, on the night of January 29. The town had for months been an Islamist stronghold, but has been entered by some 1,800 Chadian soldiers who have secured it.

Before France intervened militarily in Mali in January, Kidal was under the control of the Islamic Movement of the Azawad (MIA), an Islamist splinter group, and the Tuareg rebel National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad (MNLA).

Both these movements assured France of their support, but insisted that no Malian soldiers be deployed in Kidal, and also opposed the deployment there of troops in a west African force that is being put together to help rid the north of Islamist extremists linked to Al-Qaeda.

Kidal has traditionally been at the heart of repeated Tuareg separatist uprisings against the Bamako government and the MIA and the MNLA feared reprisals targetting the ethnic Arab and Tuareg communities.

North of Kidal lie the Ifoghas highlands where Islamist forces pulled back with their weaponry after France moved in to help Malian authorities. A French soldier was killed Tuesday in a violent clash in the Ifoghas, in which about 20 Islamists were also killed.

Meanwhile Thursday, heavy gunfire was reported in Gao, another northern city which had been reclaimed from the Islamists but was attacked several times earlier this month.

"There was heavy shooting during the night coming from two entrances to the city, but it is unclear who was behind it," said a Malian military official, who added that several other witnesses had also heard the gunfire.