There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack at
0645 local time (1:45 a.m. EST) on the Malian Solidarity Bank, which
was being guarded Mali's army and the U.N. peacekeeping mission
known as MINUSMA.
"A car bomb targeted MINUSMA forces and the Malian army who were
guarding the building of the Malian Solidarity Bank in the centre of
Kidal," said a statement by MINUSMA, which condemned the attack.
"The explosion caused the death of two Senegalese blue helmets and
also caused a number of serious injuries among the ranks of the
Malian national guard and MINUSMA," the statement said.
Some fighters linked to al Qaeda are still holding out in the north
nearly a year after the start of a French offensive aiming to drive
them from the desert region they occupied for most of 2012 after
hijacking a Tuareg separatist rebellion.
A military source said MINUSMA troops were guarding the outside of
the bank while the Malians protected the inside.
"A vehicle in front of the bank is in flames after the explosion.
There is a huge amount of black smoke in the sky hanging over the
town," resident Ibrahim Maïga said. Another resident, Youssouf
Touré, said the bank was reduced to rubble.
It was not clear whether the bank was open for business at the time.
Mali's three main political parties secured just 16 seats out of 147
available in the first round of a parliamentary election on November
24. A second round was scheduled for Sunday in constituencies where
there was no clear winner.
[to top of second column]
Few reports of violence surrounded the November poll, which was held
to complete a transition to democracy after a coup last year led to
an Islamist takeover of the north.
The rebels, who demand an independent homeland they call Azawad,
ended a five-month ceasefire on November 29, a day after Malian
troops clashed with stone-throwing protesters who blocked a visit by
the prime minister to Kidal.
The French-led offensive scattered Islamists across Mali and into
neighboring countries but the groups have stepped up operations in
recent months, attacking U.N. peacekeepers and killing two French
journalists in Kidal last month.
The Tuaregs seized control of Kidal after the French offensive had
driven Islamists out of the town, leading to tensions with the
government in Bamako.
Under a June peace pact that allowed the army to return to Kidal,
rebels are still inside the town but are required to return to their
barracks under U.N. supervision, stop carrying arms in public and
dismantle all roadblocks.
(Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg; editing by Rosalind Russell)
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