Islamists destroy bridge near Niger border in Mali
SEVARE, Mali — Islamists based in the Malian town of Ansongo have destroyed a bridge near the Niger border, officials said on Friday, marking the first use of explosives by the insurgents since the start of a French-led military intervention two weeks ago.
The explosion shows that the Islamists remain a nimble and daunting enemy, despite gains by the French, who have recaptured three towns from the jihadists and on Friday pushed toward the Islamist stronghold of Gao, one of three provincial capitals controlled by the al-Qaida-linked rebels.
Djibril Diallo, the village chief of Fafa, 12 miles from the bridge, said by telephone that he heard that members of the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa had traveled toward the border with Niger on Thursday and destroyed the bridge crossing into Tassiga. The rebel group had traveled from the locality of Ansongo, roughly 25 miles away.
“They exploded it. It was last night at around 9 p.m. The Islamists left their barracks in Ansongo after the airstrikes, and headed toward Niger. They caused the collapse of the bridge near the town of Tassiga, not far from Niger,” said Diallo.
The attack recalls insurgent tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It appeared aimed at stopping the advance of African troops, stationed in neighboring Niger, who are expected to travel by road into Mali past Tassiga to retake the strategic town of Gao.
The attack causes concern about the bridge leading into the city of Gao, said Malian officials. There were reports that the same rebel group was on the bridge leading to Gao overnight, and that they planned to bomb it, but abandoned the idea.