France battles Mali extremists as hostage crisis unfolds

The group also called for an end to France's "crusade". Chad meanwhile announced it would be sending 2 000 soldiers to fight in Mali.

After days of air strikes on rebel positions in northern Mali, controlled by the rebels since April, French and Malian ground forces battled the insurgents in the central towns of Diabaly and Konna.

But the assault on a gas field over the border in Algeria dramatically raised the stakes.

Islamists said they were holding 41 foreign hostages, including seven Americans, after their attack on the In Amenas gas field in the east of the country.

A group calling itself "Signatories for Blood" claimed the action in a post to the Mauritanian website Al-Akhbar.


The attack was in reprisal for "the crusade being waged by French forces in Mali" and for Algerian's co-operation, it said, calling for an end to the operation.

Algerian Interior Minister Dahou Ould Kablia said that one Briton and an Algerian had been killed in the attack, while another six people – a Briton, a Norwegian, a Scot and three Algerians – had been wounded.

Other reports said the hostages included Japanese, Malaysian, Norwegian and Filipino nationals. Dublin confirmed the kidnapping of an Irish national while the US state department said several of its nationals were being held.

The attackers had also demanded the release of 100 extremists held in Algeria in exchange for their hostages, a worker at the gas field site told Agence France-Presse (AFP).

Air strikes
The attack came less than a week after France launched its air strikes on Islamists forces in northern Mali on January 11 and just days after Algeria opened its airspace to French fighter jets engaged in the mission.

Jointly operated by British oil giant BP, Norway's Statoil and state-run Algerian energy firm Sonatrach, the gas field is located 1 300 kilometres southeast of Algiers, close to the Libyan border.

On the ground in central Mali, French troops engaged Islamist fighters in Diabaly, a town seized two days earlier by fighters led by Algerian Abou Zeid, one of the leaders of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

"The special forces are currently in Diabaly, in close-quarter combat with the Islamists. The Malian army is also in place," a Malian security source said on condition of anonymity.

There were also clashes near Konna, the central town Islamist forces seized last week, prompting the French intervention, security sources said.

The French military said it had secured a strategic bridge on the Niger River near the town of Markala, south of Diabaly, blocking a key route to Bamako.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the western zone around Diabaly was home to "the toughest, most fanatical and best-organised groups. It's underway there but it's difficult".

ICC launches Mali war crimes probe
The International Criminal Court said it had launched a war crimes probe on Wednesday, as rights groups and military sources denounced the extremists' use of child soldiers and use of civilians as human shields.

"Different armed groups have caused havoc and human suffering through a range of alleged acts of extreme violence," chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement. "I have determined that some of these deeds of brutality and destruction may constitute war crimes."

Chad announced on Wednesday it would send 2 000 soldiers to Mali, a significant boost to the African forces gathering there. "We intend to send an infantry regiment and two support battalions, which comes to around 2 000 men," Moussa Faki Mahamat told Radio France Internationale.

They would work closely with the Malian army and the multinational West African force taking shape, he added.

Nigeria will command the UN-approved 3 300-strong multinational African intervention force and has promised 900 troops. Niger, Burkina Faso, Togo, Senegal, Guinea and Ghana have also promised troops.

Some 2 000 men will arrive within the next 10 days, according to a report from a meeting of regional army chiefs seen by AFP.

Germany's backing
Côte d'Ivoire president and Economic Community of West African States regional bloc chairperson Alassane Ouattara called for all European countries to lend support to the operation after a meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany.

Germany has already pledged two transport planes and Italy logistical support.

France says it will ultimately send 2 500 troops, pitted against what are thought to be around 1 300 Islamic fighters.

Mali has been effectively split in two since April 2012, when extremists took advantage of a military coup in Bamako and an offensive launched by Tuareg separatists in the north to seize half the country.

The UN and aid agencies report some 370 000 Malians have been displaced by the fighting. – Sapa-AFP

Subscribe to the M&G for R2 a month

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

And for this weekend only, you can become a subscriber by paying just R2 a month for your first three months.

Sapa Afp
Guest Author

Related stories

Covid-19 vaccines offer hope as world leaders plan for future

Hopes over Covid-19 vaccines have given a boost to virus-weary citizens across the globe, but the disease remains rampant and world leaders are urging people to be patient

$500m for Covid test, treat, vaccine

France, Spain, the European Commission and Britain as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have pledged money for equity in the treatment of Covid-19

Tax the super rich and raise inflation to cut state debt, inequality and poverty

The richest 10% of South Africans own over 85% of all private wealth and a once-off 25% tax would reduce government debt by more than half. Imagine what a five-year wealth tax could do

The European companies that armed the Ivorian civil war

AN OCCRP investigation reveals that Gunvor and Semlex brokered weapons-for-oil deals in early 2011 when Côte d’Ivoire was in crisis, despite a UN arms embargo

Emery Mwazulu Diyabanza: Liberating Africa from land of liberté

The cultural and political activist is on a quest to bring looted treasures back home

France will test flying taxis from next year, say operators

A drone-like, fully-electric vertical take-off and landing vehicle (VTOL) dubbed VoloCity, produced by German company Volocopter, was chosen for the innovative trial with flying taxis in a peri-urban area
Advertising

Subscribers only

ANC: ‘We’re operating under conditions of anarchy’

In its latest policy documents, the ANC is self-critical and wants ‘consequence management’, yet it’s letting its members off the hook again

Q&A Sessions: ‘I think I was born way before my...

The chief executive of the Estate Agency Affairs Board and the deputy chair of the SABC board, shares her take on retrenchments at the public broadcaster and reveals why she hates horror movies

More top stories

DRC: Tshisekedi and Kabila fall out

The country’s governing coalition is under strain, which could lead to even more acrimony ahead

Editorial: Crocodile tears from the coalface

Pumping limited resources into a project that is predominantly meant to extend dirty coal energy in South Africa is not what local communities and the climate needs.

Klipgat residents left high and dry

Flushing toilets were installed in backyards in the North West, but they can’t be used because the sewage has nowhere to go

Nehawu leaders are ‘betraying us’

The accusation by a branch of the union comes after it withdrew from a parliamentary process
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…