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Islamic extremists attack Timbuktu

BAMAKO, Mali — Timbuktu was hit by a prolonged battle between Islamic extremists and the Malian and French armies, residents and the Malian military said Sunday.

Fighters linked to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or ­AQIM, attacked the city in northern Mali late Saturday night and continued fighting Sunday, said Captain Samba Coulibaly, spokesman for the Malian military in Timbuktu.

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The attack started Saturday when a jihadist suicide bomber blew himself up at a Malian military checkpoint at the western entrance to Timbuktu, he said. One soldier was slightly injured.

‘‘The jihadists are a few. They sneaked into the military camp and the city of Timbuktu. There is shooting at the moment, but we’ll get to the end,’’ said a Malian soldier at an entrance to the city, who insisted on anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.

The French military joined the Malian Army on Sunday to fight the Islamic radicals, Timbuktu residents said.

As of Sunday afternoon, shooting could still be heard in the city, said resident Age Djitteye. He said that one of the jihadists tried to take cover inside his family’s compound.

‘‘He was young. He was wearing a robe, and had ammunition belts across his chest and a turban. He came inside our compound, and then the French came. He ran and they chased him,’’ he said.

Djitteye said a suicide bomber blew himself up on one of the only paved roads at the heart of Timbuktu, close to the Hotel Colombe, the town’s main hotel used by journalists and aid workers.

The fighters had taken over the back of the hotel complex, near the swimming pool, said Agaly Cisse, a hotel employee. The hotel had been hosting a large government delegation, including the governor of the region, he said.

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