At least 20 people were killed today and a number of others wounded when Islamist faction Ansar Dine attacked troops loyal to the secular National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (NMLA) in the city of Gao, one of the most important cities in Northern Mali, and the presumptive capital of an independent Azawad.
NMLA Leader Bilal Ag Cherif was wounded during the offensive, shot in the leg by one of his bodyguards who was firing wildly in an attempt to hold off Ansar Dine forces attacking the NMLA headquarters in Gao. Cherif has been airlifted to Burkina Faso for treatment and is expected to be fine.
Residents say that Gao has effectively fallen at this point, and that Ansar Dine fighters are flying their group’s flag over former Tuareg-held buildings. Most of the slain appear to have been combatants, but some civilians were also apparently shot in the crossfire.
The two factions were fighting side by side in the initial secessionist war against Mali, but have hit a wall in attempting to negotiate how the new country would look. Ansar Dine, which retains close ties with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has an eye on a Taliban-style fundamentalist religious state, while NMLA has insisted that they want a secular nation.
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