Malian soldiers patrol in the streets of Timbuktu.— Photo by AFP

BAMAKO: A suicide bomber blew himself up on Saturday in the northern Malian city of Timbuktu, raising fears of a new wave of violence by Islamist insurgents after a separate land mine blast killed two soldiers.

An army officer said a Malian soldier had been wounded in the suicide attack at an army barricade in Timbuktu, the fabled Sahara caravan city's second in nine days.

“A jihadist suicide bomber detonated his explosive belt after trying unsuccessfully to force his way through the barricade at the west entrance to Timbuktu, which was guarded by Malian soldiers,” the officer told AFP by phone.

“A Malian soldier was wounded” and the bomber died instantly, he added, saying he could not give further details.

“It was a jihadist, that's all I can tell you for now. He failed,” he said.

Several Timbuktu residents reported hearing a loud explosion Saturday night followed by sustained gunfire.

“Everyone hid inside the house,” one resident told AFP. “No civilians were outside. We were afraid.”

Earlier Saturday, a land mine explosion killed two Malian soldiers in the country's Gao region, to the east of Timbuktu, the defence ministry said.

“A Malian armed forces detachment's vehicle was blown up by a mine 110 kilometres (70 miles) from Ansongo. The toll is two dead and the vehicle destroyed,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement.

He said no other soldiers had been wounded in the blast, which occurred as the detachment travelled with a unit of troops from Niger toward Ansongo.

A Malian officer speaking on condition of anonymity said the mine had been “placed by the Islamists”.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attacks.

Mali has been the target of a series of attacks claimed by Islamist insurgents since France launched a military intervention against Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had seized the north of the country.

The French-led operation, launched on January 11, has forced the extremists from the cities they had seized for 10 months in the chaotic aftermath of a March 2012 military coup.

But French and African forces have faced continuing suicide blasts and guerrilla attacks in reclaimed territory.

On March 21, a suicide bomber blew up a car near the Timbuktu airport, launching an overnight assault on the city.

The blast killed one Malian soldier. Around 10 Islamist fighters were killed in the ensuing fighting with French and Malian forces, a French army spokesman said.

The attack was claimed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), one of three Islamist groups that had seized the north.

Mujao said it had “opened a new front in Timbuktu”, which had not come under attack since French-led forces entered the city on January 28 unlike Gao, the largest city in the north, which has been hit by a string of suicide bombings and guerrilla attacks claimed by MUJAO.

The stretch of road where Saturday's land mine blast occurred is located southeast of Gao.

After the blast, the defence ministry called on residents “to redouble their vigilance and inform the nearest units of any infiltration by suspicious elements as soon as possible”.


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