Children run in front of Malian artillery positions set near the bridge crossing the river Niger at the entrance of Gao, northern Mali, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2013. Islamist extremists fled the city Saturday after French, Chadian and Nigerien troops arrived, ending 10 month of radical Islamic control over the city. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Bamako - At least four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine suspected to have been planted by fleeing Islamist insurgents in northern Mali, a Malian military officer said Thursday.

“The explosion of the patrol vehicle killed four soldiers and wounded five. It happened between Gossi and Gao on Wednesday,” the officer said, requesting not to be named.

Gao, the largest town in northern Mali, was occupied by Islamist insurgents until the weekend, when they fled a three-week air and ground offensive by French and Malian forces.

After being pounded by French air strikes, the Islamist militants have abandoned towns and melted away into the deserts and caves of northern Mali.

A French military commander warned last week of the risk of mines and booby traps in the insurgents' wake. - Reuters