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Mali conflict: Islamists vow to strike 'at heart' of France

The French government believes that its intervetion in the west African country will be over in a matter of weeks but officials have said that Islamist militants are better trained and armed than expected.

A French soldiers patrols infront of the Eiffel tower yesterday as France tightened security in public places following its intervention in Mali.
A French soldiers patrols infront of the Eiffel tower yesterday as France tightened security in public places following its intervention in Mali.
Image: Michel Euler/AP/Press Association Images

ISLAMISTS BASED IN northern Mali, under daily bombardment by France’s warplanes, vowed earlier today to avenge the assault on French soil as well as in Africa.

“France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France,” said Abou Dardar, a leader of Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), an offshoot of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), speaking to AFP by telephone.

Asked where they would strike, he said: “Everywhere. In Bamako, in Africa and in Europe.”

The French offensive has blocked the advance of Islamist forces towards the capital Bamako from their bases in the north which they have controlled since last April.

On Sunday, French aviation struck at targets in the central Islamist strongholds of Gao and Kidal. Sixty Islamists were killed in Gao alone on Sunday, according to residents and a regional security force.

The MUJAO official also referred to France’s eight hostages held in the Sahel region: “We will make a statement on the hostages today. From today all the mujahedeen are together.”

On the third day of the French intervention yesterday Rafale fighter planes struck bases used by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Gao, the main city in northern Mali.

Their warplanes also attacked rebel stockpiles of munitions and fuel further north at Afhabo, 30 miles from Kidal, a regional security source said. The area is a stronghold of Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith).

‘Question of weeks’

And they hit a base further east at Lere, near the border with Mauritania, according to witnesses and a statement from Doctors Without Borders (MSF).

“Stopping the terrorists — it’s done,” French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said. “Today we started taking care of the terrorists’ rear bases.”

Asked how long France would take a leading role in the conflict, he replied “it is a question of weeks”.

Algeria on Sunday granted France permission to fly through its airspace to reach its targets, Fabius added. Until now, Algiers has been hostile to any foreign intervention in Mali.

France launched the operation alongside the Malian army on Friday to counter a push south by the insurgents who had threatened to advance on the capital Bamako.

Residents in Gao, which has been under the control of the MUJAO, said the French airstrikes had levelled the Islamists’ position and forced them to flee.

In France itself, authorities were on high alert over fears of a backlash on home soil by Islamist extremists. French President Francois Hollande will hold a cabinet meeting devoted to the Mali crisis this morning, his office announced.

And at the request of Paris, the UN Security Council will meet later on Monday to discuss the conflict, a spokesman for France’s UN mission said.

Aides to Hollande described the militants as better trained and armed than expected.

The Islamists took advantage of a power vacuum created by a March military coup to seize control of huge swathes of northern Mali, quickly imposing an extreme form of Islamic law.

They have destroyed centuries-old mausoleums they see as heretical, and perceived offenders against their moral code have been subjected to floggings, amputations and sometimes executions.

France’s intervention has been backed by the European Union and the United States, while Britain is providing logistical support in the form of transport planes.

- AFP, 2013

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