(AP) Heavy gunfire erupted in the downtown area of the city of Gao Sunday afternoon.
The fighting in the center of Gao indicates that fighters from a radical Islamic sect had penetrated the city.
Near the police headquarters, Malian soldiers with rocket propelled grenades traded fire with combatants believed to be from the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, or MUJAO. The only sound was gunfire and the bleating of goats, as residents took cover inside their homes.
Soldiers were positioned at every corner in the neighborhood of mud-walled buildings.
Ever since French forces took the town in January, Islamists had clashed with security forces on the outskirts of Gao, but they had not yet succeeded in entering the city.
The fighting comes hours after a suicide bomber detonated himself at a checkpoint at the entrance to the town. An earlier suicide bomber blew himself up in Gao Friday.
Gao, the most populous city in northern Mali, was retaken by French forces in recent weeks. But as the French military moved north to pursue the al-Qaida-linked extremists who had occupied northern Mali, jihadist cells near Gao began planting landmines and carrying out suicide attacks.