Gao: Hundreds of French and Malian soldiers have retaken the jihadist stronghold of Bourem, a town where many radical Islamic fighters were believed to have fled, officials and witnesses said on Sunday.
Militants launched two suicide attacks last week on a checkpoint leading into Gao on the road from Bourem, raising fears of a protracted insurgency in northern Mali after French and Malian forces initially dislodged them from Gao without much resistance.
About 1,000 forces from France, Mali and other African countries are now in the town of Bourem, according to a French military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn`t permitted to speak to press.
The joint military operation was launched on Saturday afternoon as part of the ongoing effort to secure Gao, where the radical militants invaded one week ago and exchanged gunfire with Malian forces for hours.
"As the general has said, the jihads are always close," the official said.
While Gao has been restored to relative peace in recent days, officials say the ousted fighters are just on the other side of the Niger River, from which they launched last week`s assault when they arrived in wooden boats.
Bourem is located only 95 kilometres away from Gao, where the radical Islamists ruled for nearly 10 months by imposing their strict interpretation of Islamic law known as Shariah.