, Mali, Feb 13 – French troops on Wednesday defused a homemade bomb they said contained 600 kilos (1,300 pounds) of explosives in the centre of northern Mali’s largest city Gao, the target of several attacks by Islamist rebels in recent days.
The bomb, which was made of four metal barrels filled with explosives and connecting wires, was in the courtyard of an abandoned house, with heavy machine gun cartridges lying on the ground nearby and several smaller bombs inside the building, an AFP correspondent said.
The bomb had been there since at least Monday, the reporter said. The site is near a hotel where dozens of foreign journalists are staying.
In recent days, Gao has been hit by a string of attacks claimed by the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of Al-Qaeda’s north African branch that seized control of the city in the wake of a March military coup.
MUJAO fighters carried out back-to-back suicide bombings on Friday and Saturday, then opened fire on Malian troops from inside the city’s abandoned central police station Sunday, sparking a street battle that lasted several hours.
A French attack helicopter destroyed the building after the assault.
MUJAO has claimed its fighters are still in Gao and has vowed further attacks.