, Mali, Feb 12 – After French and Malian forces clashed with Islamists in northern Mali’s largest city, hundreds of curious residents on Monday flocked to the site in central Gao still scattered with human remains and unexploded grenades.
Sadou Diallo, the mayor of the city 1,200 kilometres (750 miles) northeast of Bamako, blamed Sunday’s attack on “a slackening” of control by the Malian army at the city’s northern border, where two suicide bombers recently blew themselves up.
Several witnesses said the Malian troops fled after the second suicide attack late Saturday, allowing for the Islamists to sneak in.
At least two jihadists died during the clashes, according to a high-ranking Malian officer.
Diallo also pointed to “negligence on the side of the (Niger) river”, by which some Islamists arrived by boat.
On Monday morning hundreds of men, women and children gathered on a shopping street before the police station, where the rebels had hid before firing on the French and Malian soldiers.
Malik Maiga, a local vendor, said he “found five people dead (…) from stray bullets”, adding they were “market vendors, brothers”.
While doctors only spoke of two civilian bodies at the morgue, Maiga’s claim was plausible given that not all corpses are systematically brought over.
But there was no sign of panic in the crowd: for the residents, the beige building holed by shelling and machinegun fire, with its first floor gutted, was the attraction of the day.
The crowd gawked at human torso remains lying in the rubble, along with other fragments of flesh.
“It’s disgusting but wonderful to see. These people tortured us, they did nothing but damage here,” said Mahamane Tandina, 24, cheered on by the crowd.
“We like this, frankly,” he said with a smile.
Standing at his side was Jemilatou, a shy 15-year-old who said he came to “see the MUJAO who died”.
The militant group Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) had controlled the city since June until the troops arrived in late January.
The group has claimed Sunday’s guerrilla attack and the pair of suicide bombings Friday and Saturday, saying “The mujahedeen are in the city of Gao and will remain there”.
On the first floor of the police station, two walls crumbled, leaving only a reinforced concrete column to support a corner of the building.
A stew of human flesh lay on the floor next to blood splatters that covered the column and cracked ceiling, seeming evidence of a jihadist who blew himself up in the clashes.
Witnesses said that at 0400 GMT on Monday, a French army helicopter also attacked the building.
The parade of onlookers lasted for hours, even as the site had yet to be cleared of mines: two unexploded grenades remained.
A crowd also gathered near Gao’s Independence square, renamed “Sharia square” during the occupation, where a corpse lay in the courtyard of the governor’s offices.
“It wasn’t an Islamist. It was Faycal Harouna Maiga, a Gao tailor,” said 23-year-old Boubeye Ahmed Toure, who knew the man and did not know who shot the man.
While the Islamists kill indiscriminately, the Malian soldiers are also trigger-happy: they fired several times at unarmed people passing by the clashes Sunday, according to footage from the television channel France 2.
Allegations of torture and summary executions committed by the Malian army have multiplied since the start of the conflict