* Some al Qaeda-linked fighters still in northern Mali
* French foreign ministry condemns attack
By Adama Diarra and Tiemoko Diallo
BAMAKO Dec 14 A suicide bomber killed two
Senegalese U.N. peacekeepers and destroyed the only operating
bank in the northern Malian town of Kidal on Saturday, one day
before a second round of parliamentary elections.
There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the car
bombing at 0645 local time (0645 GMT) on the Malian Solidarity
Bank, which was being guarded Mali's army and the U.N.
peacekeeping mission known as MINUSMA.
Some fighters linked to al Qaeda are still holding out in
the north nearly a year after the start of a French offensive
aiming to drive them from the desert region they occupied for
most of 2012 after hijacking a Tuareg separatist rebellion.
"A car bomb targeted MINUSMA forces and the Malian army who
were guarding the building of the Malian Solidarity Bank in the
centre of Kidal," said a statement by MINUSMA, which condemned
"The explosion caused the death of two Senegalese blue
helmets and also caused a number of serious injuries among the
ranks of the Malian national guard and MINUSMA," the statement
Body parts were strewn over 100 metres by the force of the
blast, national radio said.
"A vehicle in front of the bank is in flames after the
explosion. There is a huge amount of black smoke in the sky
hanging over the town," resident Ibrahim Maïga said. Another
resident, Youssouf Touré, said the bank was reduced to rubble.
It was not clear whether the bank was open for business at
the time. A military source said MINUSMA troops were guarding
the outside of the bank while the Malians protected the inside.
FRANCE CONDEMNS ATTACK
France's Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius condemned the
attack and noted it came on the eve of legislative elections.
France "expresses its solidarity with Malian authorities in
their action to lead the electoral process and reconciliation to
their conclusion," he said in a statement.
Mali's three main political parties secured just 16 seats
out of 147 available in the first round of a parliamentary
election on Nov. 24. A second round was scheduled for Sunday in
constituencies where there was no clear winner.
Few reports of violence surrounded the November poll, which
was held to complete a transition to democracy after a coup last
year led to an Islamist takeover of the north.
The rebels, who demand an independent homeland they call
Azawad, ended a five-month ceasefire on Nov. 29, a day after
Malian troops clashed with stone-throwing protesters who blocked
a visit by the prime minister to Kidal.
The French-led offensive scattered Islamists across Mali and
into neighbouring countries but the groups have stepped up
operations in recent months, attacking U.N. peacekeepers and
killing two French journalists in Kidal last month.
The Tuaregs seized control of Kidal after the French
offensive had driven Islamists out of the town, leading to
tensions with the government in Bamako.
Under a June peace pact that allowed the army to return to
Kidal, rebels are still inside the town but are required to
return to their barracks under U.N. supervision, stop carrying
arms in public and dismantle all roadblocks.