Mali conflict: French-led forces retake Gao after surprise attack by rebels
French and Malian forces have regained control of northern Mali's largest city after two days of instability and heavy fighting with Islamist rebels.
Soldiers cordoned off Gao and were conducting a house-by-house search to find any remaining fighters, sources said, after rebels invaded over the weekend by launching a surprise attack on the city.
"Yesterday was like nothing I have ever seen before," said a person in Gao who did not want to be named. "There was heavy gunfire for over four hours, there were street battles with the Malian and French soldiers fighting against the jihadists."
Many residents in Gao barricaded themselves in their homes during the weekend while fierce clashes took place outside in the streets.
Black-robed Islamic extremists armed with AK-47 automatic rifles invaded Gao in wooden boats on Sunday to launch a surprise attack on the most populous city in northern Mali, two weeks after French and Malian troops ousted the jihadists.
Gunfire echoed for hours across the city of mud-walled buildings. The combat started at about 2pm in downtown Gao and the fighting was continuing as night fell. Later the sound of gunfire was replaced by that of French military helicopters overhead.
The attack in Gao shows the Islamic fighters, many well-armed and with combat experience, are determined and daring and it suggests it will take a protracted campaign by France and other nations to restore government control in this vast Saharan nation in northwest Africa .
The Islamic radicals fought against the Malian army throughout the afternoon and were seen roaming the narrow streets and on rooftops in the centre of Gao, which had a population of 90,000 before the conflict caused thousands to flee.