BAMAKO (Reuters) - A suspected Islamist suicide bomber blew himself up but caused no other casualties in an attack in the northern Malian city of Kidal, the bastion of Tuareg separatist MNLA rebels, witnesses said on Tuesday.
A French-led military offensive launched in January succeeded in ending a year-long occupation of the desert north by al Qaeda-linked armed Islamist groups, ousting them from urban areas.
But Islamist attacks, usually targeting Malian soldiers and African forces deployed to the north, persist. Seven people were killed in a suicide bombing in Kidal in February, and three soldiers from Chad died in another attack there in April.
"It was exactly 10.20 a.m. (1020 GMT) when we heard the explosion," Moussa Ag Ibidas, a local aid worker, told Reuters.
"When we arrived, there was just human debris left. We couldn't even identify the body. His bomb must have been poorly programmed, or he made a false move," he said.
Witnesses said the explosion occurred near the Kidal home of an MNLA officer and not far from the former residence of Iyad Ag Ghaly, the leader of Islamist group Ansar Dine. But it was unclear what the bomber had intended to target.
The MNLA rose up last year, calling for the creation of a Tuareg homeland. The group later joined forces with al Qaeda-associated fighters as they rapidly overran the north, but was eventually sidelined by the better armed Islamists.
The MNLA was not targeted by the French offensive and has since been able to retake some areas, including Kidal, lost to the Islamists. But this has strained relations between France and the transitional government in the southern capital, Bamako.
The Malian government accused the MNLA on Monday of violence against non-Tuaregs in Kidal and said the army would retake the city before a presidential election in July.
(Reporting by Adama Diarra, Tiemoko Diallo, and Cheick Diouara; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Mark Heinrich)