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Originally published Thursday, February 7, 2013 at 4:38 AM

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Soldiers clash in Mali's capital, 1st Ld-Writethru

In northern Mali, a suicide bomber hit a checkpoint Friday, killing only himself in the first known suicide bombing since French military forces intervened in this chaotic African nation whose northern half was ruled by armed Islamic extremists.

The Associated Press

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GAO, Mali —

In northern Mali, a suicide bomber hit a checkpoint Friday, killing only himself in the first known suicide bombing since French military forces intervened in this chaotic African nation whose northern half was ruled by armed Islamic extremists.

And in the capital Bamako, far to the south, soldiers from a unit allied with the leader of last year's military coup in Mali stormed the camp of the Red Beret presidential guard Friday morning, and at least one person was killed and five were wounded, witnesses said. The bloodshed underscores that Mali's military is in disarray and in poor shape to confront without outside help the well-armed Islamists, many of whom have combat experience.

The suicide bombing happened in the city of Gao, which was occupied by armed Islamist extremists until French-led military forces pushed them out. It was the first known suicide bombing in Mali since France started its military intervention on Jan. 11. Malian military spokesman Modibo Traore confirmed that a suicide bomber attacked a checkpoint at the entrance to Gao early Friday about 6 a.m. The bomber, who was wearing an explosive belt, was the only casualty. Officials at a French military base in Gao declined to comment on the attack.

Malian soldiers gave up towns in northern Mali with hardly a fight last year to insurgents, and then a military coup in the capital, led by a captain, disrupted the command system. Witnesses described a concerted effort by a unit allied with the coup leader to take the camp of the presidential guard in Bamako.

"Since 6 a.m., the soldiers arrived in armored cars and pickup trucks, all of them armed to the teeth to attack our base. The women and children tried to stop them from entering the camp. They shot tear gas at us and started shooting volleys in the air," said Batoma Dicko, a woman who lives in the military camp. The camp includes housing for military families.

Dr. Amadou Diallo, who works at the infirmary in the camp, known as Djicoroni Para Camp, said there was at least one dead and five wounded.

"A young man in his 20s was hit by a bullet in the head and he died on the spot. The bullet pierced his face through his right cheekbone, and came out through his neck. He was totally disfigured. There are also two women who were wounded, and three children, aged 11, 17 and around 15 years old."

The Red Berets were the elite presidential guard who protected former President Amadou Toumani Toure, who was toppled in a coup last March by junior officers. Green-bereted troops backed Capt. Amadou Haya Sanogo, who seized power last year before ostensibly turning power back over to civilians, and theyb were the ones who attacked camp on Friday.

Soon after the coup, the camp has been attacked several times by the pro-coup soldiers. On earlier occasions, they disarmed the soldiers, and removed all of their artillery and ammunition.

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Ahmed reported from Timbuktu, Mali

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