Mamadou Haidara, who lives in town, says that the shooting although brief, has put the town on high alert. Citizens believe the military fired warning shots to keep the Islamist rebels away from the town.
French President Francois Hollande authorized the airstrikes last Friday after the Islamists began a push southward toward the capital from the northern half of Mali that they control. They seized the Afghanistan-sized north last April in the chaos following a coup in Mali’s normally-stable capital.
Six days of airstrikes have done little to erode the Islamist gains in Mali, which some in the West fear could turn the region into a launching pad for terrorist attacks. The bombardments began in the town of Konna, which the rebels occupied last Thursday. After initially saying they had stopped the rebel advance, France’s defense minister on Tuesday acknowledged that Konna was still in the hands of the rebels.
The seizure of Diabaly brings the Islamists to only 400 kilometers (250 miles) from the capital. Konna, the closest point where they were known to be before, is 680 kilometers (425 miles) away.
On Tuesday, France announced it was tripling the number of troops deployed to Mali from 800 to 2,500. The offensive was to have been led by thousands of African troops pledged by Mali’s neighbors, but they have yet to arrive, leaving France alone to lead the operation.
Associated Press writer Lori Hinnant contributed to this report from Paris.