On Saturday, February 9, a would-be suicide bomber was shot dead in the evening before being able to detonate his explosive device. On Sunday, February 10, 2013 Islamic rebels with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa launched a raid on the city, possibly from the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains. According to French General Bernard Barrera, the militants used motorcycles and pirogues via the Niger River to infiltrate the city. Fighting began around 2 PM near the central police station in downtown Gao, and later spread across the city, lasting for several hours. French helicopters intervened to help Malian soldiers pinned down by the rebels. Malian gendarme Colonel Saliou Maiga told Reuters the insurgents intended to carry out suicide attacks in the town.
Malian soldiers counter-attacked and began shooting at the Islamists position, other Islamists hidden in surrounding buildings opened fire. French soldiers then arrived as reinforcements. The fight stopped for the police station in the middle of the afternoon, but then continued near the governors house. According to Malian Lieutenant-Colonel Mamadou Samaké "Islamist infiltrators in the city had been greatly reduced, there are many Islamists killed." French troops stationed in the Korogoussou Gao International Airport which numbered around 900 men strong, were involved in the late afternoon. Including an armored column which was sent to evacuate a dozen journalists trapped on the place of Sharia or Independence Square. Fighting was interrupted by dusk, but the next morning at 5:00, a French helicopter bombed and destroyed the Gao police station, thus ending the battle.