DAKAR, Senegal (AP) — A bomb explosion killed and wounded several members of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali in the troubled northern city of Kidal, a spokesman for the mission said Saturday.
"There was an explosion this morning and the info I have is that there were several dead and wounded among the blue helmets," Fred Fath, the mission spokesman, told The Associated Press.
An intelligence official in northern Mali said the dead included two Senegalese peacekeepers. He spoke anonymously because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
At the same time, at least 80 Islamic radicals carried out a second attack, on a Tuareg camp in the town of Teringuite, also in northern Mali, according to the intelligence official. He said that fighters from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa attacked the camp on Saturday. He said the group was led by Abou Dardar, a commander who was among those who invaded and held the famous city of Timbuktu in northern Mali in 2012. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties from the second attack.
The back-to-back assaults are the worst to have rocked northern Mali in recent weeks, and come as France rushes troop to the Central African Republic, its former colony, where at least 600 have died in a week of sectarian violence. The French military deployed in Mali, another ex-colony, in January.
In the Kidal attack, the car packed with explosives detonated in front of a bank guarded by the peacekeepers, the intelligence official said. The explosion blew open the doors of houses in the area.
Abdallah Ag Ibrahim, a resident of Kidal, said the bank crumbled, a U.N. armored personnel car caught fire, and a nearby school was in flames. He said he saw four people who were either dead or injured.
Kidal, located some 1,600 kilometers (1,000 miles) northeast of Mali's capital, is where an ethnic Tuareg rebellion began in late 2011.
The French military, assisted by African troops, succeeded in chasing the rebels from almost all the areas they controlled, except Kidal, which remains at the heart of the conflict.
Analysts had long predicted that the al-Qaida linked fighters who controlled northern Mali for 10 months last year had not been defeated, just dispersed by the French-led intervention, and are just waiting for the international community to look the other way before staging a comeback. It's too early to tell if the attacks in Kidal and Teringuite were coordinated or if indeed they mark a new phase in the hostilities, but the damage caused met with condemnation from both the U.N. and Paris.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned "the cowardly attack" in Kidal, which came just ahead of Sunday's second round of legislative elections, meant to restore constitutional order in Mali.
Associated Press writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.