Jihadists affiliated to the Islamic State group have seized a town in northern Mali after bitter fighting with local rebels and rival militants linked to Al-Qaeda, several sources said Wednesday.
The insurgents on Tuesday took Talataye, a town 150 kilometers (90 miles) from Gao that has been repeatedly fought over in Mali’s decade-long security crisis, they said.
They battled local rebels, as well as the pro-Qaeda Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM), the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, they said.
“The ISGS people arrived this afternoon on motorbikes, the fighting lasted three hours,” one of the local rebels told AFP by phone late Tuesday, referring to the so-called Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.
The rebel was a member of the Movement for the Salvation of Azawad (MSA), part of an ethnic Touareg movement in the north.
MSA fighters retreated in the face of the offensive, and the town fell at dusk, he said.
A local elected official confirmed the account, saying “Talataye town hall and the town” were in the hands of the ISGS as of Wednesday morning.
A security official in Gao, the biggest town in the region, confirmed there had been fighting “between jihadist groups.”
Both officials spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.
Further details, including the casualty toll, were unclear.
Talataye is essentially an agglomeration of hamlets with a population of several thousand.
Much of this remote, arid region lies outside the control of the state. The GSIM, MSA, and the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), a coalition of Tuareg and Arab nationalist groups from the desert north, are present there.
Mali has been struggling with a decade-long insurgency that began in the north of the country among ethnic Tuaregs, who were then joined by jihadists.
In 2015, jihadist attacks spread to Niger and Burkina Faso. Across the Sahel, thousands have died and more than two million people have fled their homes.