BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Tuareg separatist rebels in Mali extended their reach Tuesday, attacking a sixth town in the country's remote north, a locality best known as the hometown of one of Africa's most famed musicians.
Moussa Ag Acharatoumane, a spokesman for the rebel group, said by telephone from Paris that "operations are ongoing" in Niafunke, where legendary blues guitarist Ali Farka Toure grew up. The attack was not immediately confirmed by Malian forces.
The newest rebellion launched in January by the Tuareg ethnic group broke years of relative peace, and is being fueled by the return of Tuaregs who had fought in the late Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi's army.
In the last two weeks, a Tuareg group that calls itself the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad has attacked six towns spread out over more than 500 miles (800 kilometers) across Mali's vast north.
However, the towns they have attacked so far are small, with limited defenses. The rebels have not yet attacked any major population centers, and the towns they have chosen are sleepy hamlets.
The latest attack may resonate more than the others because Niafunke was the home of one of the African continent's most remarkable musicians.
Toure, whose musical style was described by Martin Scorsese as the "DNA of the blues," named his 1999 album after Niafunke. In the liner notes, Toure, who died in 2006, explained his dedication by saying he wanted to reflect on the Malian landscape that has always been a source of inspiration for him.
The NMLA was formed in October and seeks self-determination for the north of Mali, an area it calls the Azawad. The Malian government has accused the NMLA of being linked to an al-Qaida affiliate, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, which is active in the band of countries south of the Sahara desert.