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AL QAEDA

Two French nationals kidnapped in Mali

A gang kidnapped two French nationals at gunpoint from their hotel in the Malian desert on Thursday, local security sources said, the latest in a string of abductions of foreigners in the troubled region.

The two geologists were seized from their hotel in the eastern village of Hombori near the border with Niger, in an assault bearing the hallmark of Al-Qaeda linked Islamist militants.

A Hombori municipality source said seven armed men entered the hotel at about 1am (0100 GMT) on Thursday and made off with their hostages to the north of the country, a hotbed of Al-Qaeda militants.

Later on French radio the Frenchmen’s driver described the abduction.

“They (kidnappers) were armed to the teeth. They quickly attacked the guards and then they came towards me pointing their guns, their Kalashnikovs,” the driver identified only as Mamadou told radio station Europe 1.

“They attacked me, then they broke down the door of the hotel to get inside” and seized the Frenchmen, he said.

In Paris, French foreign minister Alain Juppé confirmed that the men had been taken “in circumstances that were not yet clear”.

The Frenchmen “had not bothered to alert the embassy or consulate” in Mali’s capital Bamako to their presence, a French diplomatic source added.

The latest kidnap brings to six the number of French hostages in the Sahel area, with the group known as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) still holding four nationals abducted in Niger in September 2010.

Northern Mali is home to a number of AQIM bases used to launch attacks and kidnappings in the Sahel region on the southern side of the Sahara that includes parts of Mali, Algeria, Niger and Mauritania.

The two geologists were employed by a cement works in the region owned by the Malian firm Mande Construction Immobiliere and funded by the World Bank, according to a diplomatic source.

They were seized a day after a former French military official involved in efforts to free the hostages in Niger was shot and wounded in the shoulder.

An Italian and two Spaniards kidnapped in Algeria in October are also believed to be held by AQIM, although the group has not claimed responsibility.

At a regional security meeting in Bamako this week, delegates complained that a lack of support by Algeria for military operations against AQIM was a serious setback to efforts to crack down on the group.

“We must recognise that up against a transnational enemy, which is well organized and disposes of enormous financial and material means, we need to develop further our capacity to carry out joint multinational operations,” Mali’s army chief General Gabriel Poudiougou said Monday.

Negotiations for the release of the four Frenchmen, who were among a total of seven people snatched by AQIM in the uranium mining town of Arlit in Niger, have been complicated by the fallout from the conflict in Libya.

Thursday’s kidnapping came the same day as news that a French woman aid worker seized two days ago in Yemen’s restive south had been released.

AQIM grew out of Algeria’s Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, which took part in a civil war there that has now ended. Since 2007, AQIM has launched a range of operations in the vast Sahel strip south of the Sahara.

Operating from their bases in northern Mali, the radical Islamists have carried out attacks on troops and civilians, kidnappings, particularly of Westerners, of whom several were executed.

AQIM is also engaged in trafficking of various kinds, including weapons and drugs.

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TERRORISM

‘Terrorists’ attack French soldiers in troubled Mali

French soldiers operating in troubled northern Mali were targeted by "terrorists" in an ambush on Sunday, the third attack in the country in just days.

'Terrorists' attack French soldiers in troubled Mali
Smoke and flames ascend from an army armoured vehicle in Gao, northwestern Mali, following an explosion on Sunday. Photo: STRINGER / AFP
The ambush underscores the fragile security situation in the West African nation as it prepares to go to the polls on July 29th.
 
A spokesman for the French military said there were no deaths among the French troops but it was not known if there were other casualties in the attack, which took place in the restive Gao region.
 
“French soldiers of the Barkhane military operation were ambushed by terrorists” near the town of Bourem, a Western military source told AFP, referring to the French mission in the country. 
 
A Malian military source confirmed the incident, which came two days after a deadly attack on the Mali headquarters of a five-nation regional force known as G5 Sahel.
 
Fatouma Wangara, a resident of Gao, said the French convoy was clearly targeted by a suicide car bomb.
 
“An armoured vehicle blocked the way and the car blew up,” she said.
 
Another resident told AFP that the area around the ambush had been sealed off by French soldiers.
 
The attack came as over 40 African heads of state are meeting for an African Union summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott with security high on the agenda.
 
'Hit the heart' of regional security
 
On Friday, a suicide attack on the headquarters of the regional Sahel force known as G5 killed two soldiers and a civilian in the Malian town of Savare. The Al-Qaeda-linked Support Group for Islam and Muslims, the main jihadist alliance in the Sahel, claimed Friday's bombing in a telephone call to the Mauritanian news agency Al-Akhbar. And on Saturday, four Malian soldiers were killed when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the central Mopti region.
 
Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, whose country is part of the G5 and is hosting the two-day AU summit, warned earlier that security failings were hampering the work of the Sahel force. He said Friday's attack “hit the heart” of the region's security and lashed out at a lack of international help.
 
The G5 aims to have a total of 5,000 troops from five nations — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — but has faced funding problems. It operates alongside France's 4,000 troops in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet, and alongside the UN's 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
 
Mali's unrest stems from a 2012 ethnic Tuareg separatist uprising, which was exploited by jihadists in order to take over key cities in the north. The extremists were largely driven out in a French-led military operation launched in January 2013.  But large stretches of the country remain out of the control of the foreign and Malian forces, which are frequent targets of attacks, despite a peace accord signed with Tuareg leaders in mid-2015 aimed at isolating the jihadists.
 
The violence has also spilled over into both Burkina Faso and Niger.