France confirms explosion at its embassy in Mali

Updated: 2011-01-06 11:07


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BAMAKO-- An unidentified assailant hurled a homemade bomb and fired several gunshots at the French embassy in Mali's capital late Wednesday, wounding two Malian citizens. The blast from the explosive device appeared to be small, however, and caused only minor damage to an outer gate of the building.

Hammadoun Billal Traore, a police officer in Bamako, said the explosive was a small gas cylinder. He said the attacker lit it and threw it toward an entrance to the embassy. The man then fired off several shots with a pistol before being detained by security forces.

In Paris, French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Christine Fages said the cause of the explosion was not immediately clear, but it was not an accident. She had no information about possible motives and said at least one Malian staffer at the embassy was "very lightly" injured.

It was not immediately clear whether the attack was terror-related. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb operates in the former French colony and has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping last year of five French citizens and two others who worked at a French-owned uranium mine in neighboring Niger. AQIM is believed to have taken the seven across the desert into neighboring Mali.

The main damage from Wednesday's explosion was a pair of black burn marks on a gray sliding metal door used by vehicles to enter the embassy from one of Bamako's primary thoroughfares. The gate still functioned, and a silver, diplomatic four-wheel-drive vehicle exited the embassy later Wednesday night.

One of the burn marks was about one meter (yard) high on the gate. The other, slightly smaller, was on the gate and a corner wall.

About two dozen Malian security forces were dispatched to the embassy after the explosion, but all but one left soon afterward.

Two private Malian security guards who went to the scene afterward also said one suspect had been detained _ a pale-skinned man with small cuts on his head. Traore said the man was of North African origin.

The security guards said the attacker fired shots toward the embassy, and two small pock marks were visible in the glass of sentry post and half a dozen rounds appeared to have hit a nearby tree. Security forces did not return fire, they said, but one person was wounded by a gunshot, the other was burned by the blast.

The security guards, employed by a private company hired to protect the embassy, declined to be named.

Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, grew out of an Islamist insurgency movement in Algeria that merged with al-Qaida in 2006. It has since spread through the Sahara and the arid Sahel region, and in recent years has increasingly been targeting French interests.

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Late last year, France rejected a reported demand from al-Qaida to negotiate with Osama bin Laden over the fate of five French hostages seized in Niger. The five, as well as two people from Togo and Madagascar, were kidnapped September 16 as they slept in the Niger uranium mining town of Arlit.

AQIM, which is believed to have about 400 fighters active from Niger to Mauritania, conducts the bulk of its attacks _ bombings or ambushes _ in Algeria.


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