Clashes in north Mali leave one dead as Gao airport closed


French soldiers explode land mines at the site where a suicide bomber blew himself up on February 10, 2013 in northern Gao on the road to Gourem.

BAMAKO - Clashes between armed groups near the northern Malian city of Gao left at least one person dead and a dozen injured, and the local airport was closed after being hit in a jihadist attack, sources said.

Fighting erupted Thursday between the towns of Tessit and Intillit among unidentified militias, an elected official who asked not to named said.

The combatants were believed either to be aligned with the ex-rebel Azawad movement or with an ethnic Touareg group called Imghad or its pro-government ally, the official said.

READ: UN peacekeeper killed, eight others injured in Mali

The clashes were confirmed by a foreign security source who said the fighters were probably connected to groups involved in a peace process for Mali's volatile north.

The elected official earlier said that two had died in the fighting, but a number of sources later said that one person had been killed.

Meanwhile the UN mission to Mali (Minusma) announced that Gao airport -- a key transport hub -- had been shut down following a jihadist suicide attack on Tuesday night.

A car bomb destroyed prefabricated hangars used by the mission's aircraft, Minusma said in a statement.

Damage to the installations and debris on the runway "has made the airport unusable for the moment and it is temporarily closed," it said, adding that the clean-up would begin once the area was made safe.

Minusma said a second vehicle had been "abandoned in situ, containing 500 kilos (1,100 pounds) of explosives and other devices" and these needed to be neutralised.

The attack was claimed the same evening by the Algerian jihadist group of Mokhtar Belmokhtar, which said in a statement that the airport had been attacked as it was one of the most important sites used by foreign forces in Mali.

The one-eyed killer of hostages and a notorious Al-Qaeda ally in North Africa, Belmokhtar was reported to have been killed in a French air strike in southern Libya last month.

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed Monday a report in the Wall Street Journal that US intelligence helped France target the veteran jihadist.

Mali regained control of the northern cities from the jihadists after a French-led international military intervention in January 2013, but insurgents remain active across large parts of the region.

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