Black-robed Islamic extremists armed with AK-47 automatic rifles have invaded the most populous city in northern Mali, two weeks after French and Malian troops ousted the jihadists.
The Islamic fighters launched a surprise attack on Malian forces in Gao by crossing the Niger River in wooden boats Sunday.
The combat started at about 2 p.m. in downtown Gao and the fighting was continuing as night fell. Later the sound of gunfire was replaced by the clattering of French military helicopters overhead.
The attack in Gao shows the extremists, many of them well-armed and with combat experience, are determined and daring and it foreshadows a protracted campaign by France and other nations to restore government control in the vast Saharan nation in northwest Africa.
Ever since French forces took Gao on Jan. 26, the Islamic rebels had clashed with security forces on the city's outskirts. This is the first time they succeeded in entering the strategic city.