Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants have launched a surprise attack on the French forces and Malian troops currently occupying the town of Gao in northern Mali.

The heavily armed Islamic insurgents belonging to the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) have claimed responsibility for the attack, that has led to reports of heavy gunfire on the streets of the town that was taken just over two weeks ago by French and Malian forces. The rebels, armed with AK-47s, snipers and rocket propelled grenades, are believed to have first attacked the central police station before the fighting spread.

French forces responded to the attack with aerial bombardment from helicopters. The gun battle comes a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up at one of the checkpoints of the town, an attack also claimed by the same Islamist group. Whilst the death toll is not yet known, many casualties are feared.

Written and presented by Alfred Joyner