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Hunt for jihadists goes on in Mali

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 9:42 p.m.

GAO, Mali — Malian soldiers scoured the city of Gao on Monday for remnants of the radical Islamic fighters who invaded the town and engaged in an hours-long fight with soldiers before French and Malian forces regained control.

Sunday's brazen assault marked the first time the jihadists had penetrated the city of mud-walled buildings since they fled two weeks ago. The attack showed the al-Qaida-linked militants' intent to fight for control of Gao, which they had ruled for nearly 10 months.

However, French President Francois Hollande said his goal is that “not one space of Mali's territory be under the control of terrorists.”

“The essential part of the Malian territory is today liberated, but we haven't finished our task. There are still terrorist pockets, notably in the extreme north of Mali, and operations are still being conducted by a certain number of groups,” Hollande said from Paris.

Lt. Col. Salihou Maiga with the national police said at least 14 suspects had been arrested in searches in the area and would be transferred to Bamako, the capital.

At least five of them were being held inside a building that smelled of urine with a tiny barred window. The metal door was secured with two padlocks. Inside the police station, at least eight people facing interrogation by authorities sat on the floor without restraints.

“People were terrorized by Sunday's attack, but all the people have returned to the city now,” Maiga said. “Calm has been restored.”

At least six French armored personnel carriers patrolled the empty downtown streets where the black-robed Islamic radicals had battled for more than five hours with Malian soldiers the day before. The checkpoint to the city where suicide bombers have now twice targeted Malian soldiers also was heavily fortified.

“Our forces are right now patrolling the city to dismantle the pockets of resistance,” said Daouda Sidiki Dembele, a communications officer with the Malian army in Gao.

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