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AL QAEDA

Al-Qaeda urges attacks on French interests

One of the leaders of north African branch of Al-Qaeda issued a call on Tuesday for Muslims around the world to launch attacks against French interests in retaliation for France's military intervention in Mali.

Al-Qaeda urges attacks on French interests
Photo: AFP

A leader of Al-Qaeda in North Africa has urged Muslims worldwide to attack French interests in retaliation for France's military intervention against Islamists in Mali, in a video message posted online.

"It is your duty, all Muslims… to attack French interests everywhere," Abu Obaida al-Annabi said in the recording dated April 25.

French President Francois Hollande reacted swiftly by saying that Paris takes the Al-Qaeda threat "seriously".

Annabi, presented as the head of the council of dignitaries of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, called for "full mobilisation" to combat the "new crusade of France".

"Jihad (holy war) is now the duty of every capable among you," he said.

France sent troops in January to Mali to quash Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had taken control of half of the country.

French troops fighting alongside the Malian army and other African soldiers have largely succeeded in driving Islamist insurgents from the north, but pockets of resistance remain, particularly in the Gao region.

France has begun withdrawing some of its 4,000 troops and said it will leave 2,000 soldiers on the ground throughout the summer.

Paris last month assured Mali that it was not planning an overnight withdrawal of its troops and would provide a permanent support forces of 1,000 French soldiers after elections slated for July.

"If the French president wants his crusade to be quick, short and limited, to spare his country descending into a swamp like that faced by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is your duty to foil his plan and drag him into an open war," said Annabi.

He said such a war should "drain France's economy, exhaust its capabilities, and push it into a recession and contraction."

Hollande offered a swift reaction to Annabi's call.

"We are taking seriously the threat by AQIM," Hollande told reporters, adding that despite considerable losses inflicted on Islamists in Mali, "the terrorist threat has not disappeared."

Annabi's call came days after Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a similar threat

"France is playing with fire… By attacking Mali, France lit the fuse and will suffer the consequences," Mohammed told French weekly Le Point last month.

"The reaction of jihadi fighters is likely to be strong, be it in Mali or on French territory.

"France kills our children, we must respond. We have neither bombs nor planes, but our resources allow us to take hostages to defend ourselves," said the Egyptian Islamist.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as Al-Qaeda chief in 2011, had already warned France at the beginning of April that it would meet in Mali "the same fate as America in Iraq and Afghanistan" 

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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.