Troops set for jihadist strongholds in Mali
21 January 2013, 09:46
Bamako - French troops on Sunday consolidated gains in Mali's Islamist-held north as Paris said the aim was its "total re-conquest" and Canada, Germany and Russia offered vital aid for the offensive.
The al-Qaeda-linked group that shocked the world with its audacious hostage attack in neighbouring Algeria threatened meanwhile to stage further reprisal strikes on nations involved in chasing out Islamists from Mali.
The French advance towards the jihadist strongholds in Mali came amid reports that the militants were abandoning some of their positions and converging on the mountainous region of Kidal, their northernmost bastion, 1 500km from the capital Bamako and near the border with Algeria.
Kidal was the first town seized by an amalgam of Islamist militants and Tuareg separatist groups in March last year. The two sides then had a falling out and the Islamists have since gained the upper hand in the vast desert north.
"The goal is the total re-conquest of Mali," French Defence Minister Le Drian said in televised remarks. "We will not leave any pockets" of resistance.
Le Drian also said seven French citizens taken hostage by Islamist militants in Niger and Mali in recent years were alive, adding there had been "contacts with the hostage-takers".
There had been fears over their fate since the start of the French military intervention in Mali, which sparked the brazen attack on a gas plant in neighbouring Algeria and hostage-taking that rocked the world.
The 72-hour stand-off ended in scores of deaths Saturday.
On Sunday, the assailants, calling themselves Signatories in Blood, vowed "more operations in all the countries which have taken part in the crusade against Azawad if they do not review their decision", using the Islamist name for northern Mali.
"We remind our Muslim brothers of the need to clear out from sites run by foreign companies, especially the French ones, to save their lives," their statement said.