BAMAKO — Algerian jihadists arrived in Gao on Friday to reinforce Islamist fighters in the northern Mali city after they chased Tuareg rebels from the town they had jointly occupied for three months, sources said.
"About 30 Algerian jihadists arrived in Gao on Friday to assist in securing the town and hunting down rebels" from the Tuaregs' National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA), a regional security source said.
He said they had come to join Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who is currently in Gao.
The Islamist group which drove out the Tuareg in fighting that caused 20 deaths, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), along with AQIM and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) have taken firm control of Mali's vast north.
Two other witnesses reported seeing Algerian jihadists in Gao, who have much lighter skin than their Malian counterparts, and Afghan clothing.
Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag Ghaly arrived in the town on Thursday, after the fighting a day earlier erupted between the Tuareg and Islamists resulted in the desert nomads being dislodged from all key positions in the city.
According to witnesses at least 20 people were killed and scores injured in the clashes as the simmering tensions erupted between the two groups which captured Gao three months ago with vastly different intents.
The Tuareg, who had kickstarted the rebellion with an eye for independence of northern Mali, or Azawad, did not agree with the Islamists who wanted a state based on strict Islamic law, which they have already enforced.
MNLA secretary general Bilal Ag Acherif was wounded in the fighting and is recovering in a hospital in Burkina Faso.
In a statement, MNLA spokesman Moussa Ag Assarid said four of its fighters were killed and 10 injured "but the heaviest loss was by far on the side of the AQIM and MUJAO terrorists.
"Unfortunately there were also civilian losses during the fighting," the statement said, without referring to the MNLA's ouster from the town.
Several witnesses reported that the group had also been forced from its final positions in Timbuktu.
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