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French and Malian troops regain control of Gao, northern city from Islamic fighters

French and Malian troops have regained control of Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, from Islamic fighters a day after heavy fighting.

French in MaliEnlarge
French soldiers patrol at the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up on February 10, 2013 in northern Gao on the road to Gourem. (PASCAL GUYOT/AFP/Getty Images)

French and Malian troops have regained control of Gao, the largest city in northern Mali, from Islamic fighters a day after heavy fighting.

There was no immediate word on casualties, althoughthe Associated Press cited hospital officials and witnesses as saying that three civilians died in the fighting Sunday.

Agence France-Presse reported that a French combat helicopter bombed a police station in Gao,  the site of a fire fight between Malian soldiers and Islamist rebels. 

However, the city had returned to calm after a surprise attack on Malian troops Sunday by militants in the town.

French troops helped drive Islamist militants out of Gao two weeks ago. But the AP cited Colonel Mamadou Sanake of the Malian army as saying  the rebel fighters had infiltrated the city by motorcycle and  the Niger river, 

In a statement referring to an attack carried out on Saturday, militants from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) said:

"Today God's faithful successfully attacked the Malian army, which let the enemies of Islam come to Gao. MUJAO also claims the suicide bombing yesterday that made the Malian soldiers flee."

Meanwhile, according to the BBC, Malian troops were conducting house-to-house searches  hoping to flush out any fighters hiding among the population.

Several Al-Qaeda-linked groups seized control of northern Mali in the wake of a military coup in March 2012.

Deutsche Welle wrote in a report that a French-led military force using air support had retaken most towns in northern Mali held by Islamist rebels for most of the past year.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/africa/130211/mali-france-french-military-malian-gao-islamic