BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Radical Islamic militants attacked a central Malian town at dawn Monday, the closest they have struck to the capital since a French-led war forced them from power across the desert north nearly two years ago.
The Malian military initially fled the town of Nampala after the attack around 5 a.m. that killed two soldiers, according to a security official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to journalists. The militants arrived in about a dozen vehicles and remained in the town of about 10,000 residents at midday, witnesses said.
Defense Ministry adviser Lt. Col. Diarran Kone said that Mali's forces now control Nampala, after the attackers left and some of the army returned.
No immediate claim of responsibility was issued but suspicion fell on al-Qaida militants in the Wagadou forest.
The town of Nampala is located 340 miles (550 kilometers) northeast of the capital of Bamako, along the border with Mauritania. While jihadists have staged a series of deadly attacks on Malian soldiers and peacekeepers, those assaults have been concentrated in and around their former seats of power in Gao and Kidal.
Northern Mali fell under control of Tuareg separatists and then al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists following a military coup in 2012. A French-led intervention in early 2013 scattered the extremists, but some have remained active.
France still has about 1,200 troops operating in Gao and other parts of vast northeastern Mali as part of a five-nation counterterrorism operation codenamed Barkhane.