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KIDNAPPING

Images emerge of man kidnapped in Mali

A Mauritanian news website on Monday published images of a French citizen kidnapped last week by one of the armed Islamist groups controlling the north of neighbouring Mali.

Two photos published on the site Alakhbar showed the man, identified as Alberto Rodriguez Leal, 61, with his head bowed, wearing a blue shirt and flanked by two armed men dressed in kakhi robes.

"My name is Rodriguez Leal Alberto. I was kidnapped in Diema, between Nioro and Bamako by MUJAO" the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, read the transcription of comments made by the hostage in an accompanying video.

According to Alakhbar the images were taken on Sunday.

"I ask the French government to respond rapidly to their demands," Leal added.

MUJAO has not yet publicised its requests in exchange for the hostage's release.
 
"I am not at fault in this kidnapping, it is the government which is implicated by its outside actions."

Leal said he trusted the French government would rapidly deal with his situation and "find a favourable outcome."

"For my family, don't worry. I am being well treated," he added.

Leal, who was kidnapped on November 20th while driving in a camper van in south-western Mali from Mauritania, was initially identified by Malian security sources as Gilberto.

He was born in Portugal, but is a French citizen.

MUJAO, one of the Islamist groups occupying the vast arid north, on Thursday claimed responsibility for the latest kidnapping, bringing to 13 the number of hostages held by hardliners in the region.Seven of these are French.

"We claim responsibility for the kidnapping of the Frenchman in south-western Mali near the Mauritanian border," said MUJAO spokesman Abu Walid Sahraoui.

Earlier another spokesman from the group had accused France of wanting "to lead armies against the Muslim people."

MUJAO and Ansar Dine (Defenders of Faith) swept into Mali's northern cities after the March coup, on the flanks of a separatist rebellion by Tuareg desert nomads.

They swiftly ousted their secular Tuareg allies and set about imposing brutal sharia low on the population, prompting some 400,000 people to flee their homes.
  
The armed Islamist groups have ties to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) whose involvement and presence in the occupation has increased.
  
This has heightened fears among western powers that the region could become a new haven for terrorists seeking to launch attacks in the region or against Europe.
  
France is one of the leading western powers backing west African efforts to send in a force of 3,300 troops to drive the Islamists out of the north.

The intervention plan is awaiting approval from the United Nations.

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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.