Gao, key northern Mali town, reclaimed by French, Malian forces after Islamic militants' weekend attack

A Malian soldier takes cover behind a truck during exchanges of fire with jihadists in Gao, Mali, Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013 AP Photo/Jerome Delay

Gao, MaliFrench and Malian government forces have regained control of this strategic northern city, after Islamic fighters invaded and fought a prolonged battle Sunday.

Hundreds of Gao residents gathered around the heavily damaged police headquarters building in the center of the city early Monday where body parts lay strewn about a day after al Qaeda-linked militants launched a surprise attack on the city.

"Yesterday we had the gunfire and hid in our homes all evening," said Soumayla Maiga as he stood with his friends near the rubble of the police offices. "We were stunned when we came out and saw what happened."

The radical Islamic fighters, who had ruled Gao for nearly 10 months before they were ousted at the end of January, returned to the city by crossing the Niger River in wooden boats to launch their assault Sunday afternoon. The fighting lasted more than five hours.

The walls and ceiling inside the police building were heavily stained with blood and the damage was consistent with an explosion, suggesting a suicide bomber blew himself up in the police offices.

Residents who had cowered in their homes during the heavy gunfire cautiously ventured out onto the streets where groups in circles looked at the human remains.

Women used their veils to cover their noses and mouths as they passed the blown off legs and a disemboweled donkey which lay in front of the police building.

Two civilians died from gunshot wounds, while 10 others were wounded, confirmed Dr. Moulaye Djiteye at the Gao hospital. The body of a third man was carted away later Monday morning; residents said he had been hit by a stray bullet while riding by on his motorcycle.

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