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french troops


10,000 French troops have been mobilized to boost security after last week’s deadly attacks in Paris.

Thousands of police officers have been also sent to protect Jewish schools.

Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said troops would be in place from January 13 in sensitive areas.

It is the first time troops have been deployed within France on such a scale.

Seventeen people were killed in Paris last week in attacks at satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, on a police officer, and at kosher supermarket HyperCacher.

On January 11, an estimated 3.7 million people took to the streets to show solidarity with the victims, including 1.5 million people in Paris.

About 40 world leaders joined the start of the Paris march, linking arms in an act of solidarity.

Photo AFP

Photo AFP

President Francois Hollande ordered the deployment of troops during a crisis meeting with top officials early on January 12.

Jean-Yves Le Drian said the deployment, the first of its kind, was needed because “threats remain present”.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazaneuve announced that nearly 5,000 members of the security forces would be sent to protect France’s 717 Jewish schools, and that troops would be sent as reinforcements over the next two days.

PM Manuel Valls said synagogues would also be protected, as would mosques, following some retaliatory attacks over the Charlie Hebdo killings.

Last week, Manuel Valls admitted there had been “clear failings” after it emerged that the three gunman involved in the attacks – Said and Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly – had a history of extremism.

The Kouachi brothers were on UK and US terror watch lists and Amedy Coulibaly had previously been convicted for plotting to free a known militant from prison. Amedy Coulibaly met Cherif Kouachi while in jail.

Amedy Coulibaly and the Kouachi brothers were shot dead on January 9 after police ended two separate sieges.

Amedy Coulibaly killed four people at HyperCacher supermarket in eastern Paris on January 9 before police stormed the building. He is also believed to have shot dead a policewoman the day before.

Ahead of Sunday’s rally in Paris, a video emerged appearing to show Amedy Coulibaly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State militant group.

In the video, he said he was working with the Kouachi brothers: “We have split our team into two… to increase the impact of our actions.”

The Kouachi brothers claimed they were acting on behalf of Yemeni branch of al-Qaeda (AQAP). But experts say it is highly unlikely that Islamic State and al-Qaeda, rivals in the Middle East, would plan an attack together.

Manuel Valls said on January 12 that authorities thought that the attackers had at least one accomplice, for whom police are still hunting.

One suspect is Hayat Boumeddiene, Amedy Coulibaly’s girlfriend, though she left France before the attacks. The Turkish foreign minister said Hayat Boumeddiene had arrived in Turkey on January 2 from Madrid, before continuing to Syria six days later.

Surveillance footage released on January 12 showed Hayat Boumeddiene entering Turkey at an Istanbul airport, accompanied by a man.

According to Turkish officials, the man was Mehdi Sabri Belhouchine, a man of “North African origin”, and that he was not on a watch list. Officials believe he crossed into Syria with Hayat Boumeddiene.

Manuel Valls also said that a jogger shot in a separate attack in Paris on January 7, which prosecutors have linked to Amedy Coulibaly, was “between life and death”.

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French-led forces in Mali are advancing on the key northern city of Timbuktu, as they press on with their offensive against Islamist rebels.

On Saturday Malian and French forces seized Gao, another key northern city.

The advance comes as African Union leaders are meeting to discuss sending more troops to Mali.

Islamists seized the north of the country last year, but have been losing ground since French forces launched an operation earlier this month.

Late on Saturday French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said Malian and French troops would arrive “near Timbuktu soon”.

Overnight they secured Gao – northern Mali’s most populous city- after special forces captured the airport and a strategic bridge to the south.

Most militants appear to have fled into desert hide-outs and the hunt for them may prove more difficult once all major towns are secure.

Troops from Niger and Chad are to assist Malian forces in further securing the town.

African Union leaders are holding a summit in Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, as members move to deploy troops to help the French-led operation there.

African states have pledged nearly 5,700 troops to support French and Malian forces in their campaign.

Only a small part of the African force has so far deployed.

French-led forces in Mali are advancing on the key northern city of Timbuktu, as they press on with their offensive against Islamist rebels

French-led forces in Mali are advancing on the key northern city of Timbuktu, as they press on with their offensive against Islamist rebels

A number of West African countries on Saturday raised the total number of troops pledged to 5,700. Separately, Chad has said it will send 2,000 soldiers.

Meanwhile, the US said it would provide mid-air refuelling for French warplanes.

The Pentagon said it had also discussed plans for the US to transport troops to Mali from countries including Chad and Togo.

Islamists seized a vast area of northern Mali last year and have tried to impose strict Sharia, or Islamic law.

Some 3,700 French troops are engaged in Operation Serval, 2,500 of them on Malian soil.

France intervened militarily as the Islamists advanced further south. It said that the capital, Bamako, was under threat.

As French and Malian troops moved into Gao, Malian officials spoke of scenes of joy, but also some looting.

“Possibly at a certain point the enemy in front of us was underestimated,” Malian Foreign Minister Tieman Coulibaly said ahead of the summit in Addis Ababa.

“But everyone has seen that this terrorist group intends to spread its criminal purpose over the whole of Mali, and eventually target other countries.”

The AU has recommended civilian observers monitor the human rights situation in the areas which have come back under the control of the Malian government.

Human rights groups have accused the Malian army of committing serious abuses.

Treasures of Timbuktu:

  • Timbuktu was a centre of Islamic learning from the 13th to the 17th Centuries
  • 700,000  manuscripts survive in public libraries and private collections
  • Books on religion, law, literature and science
  • Added to UNESCO world heritage list in 1988 for its three mosques and 16 cemeteries and mausoleums
  • They played a major role in spreading Islam in West Africa; the oldest dates from 1329
  • Islamists destroyed mausoleums after seizing the city

France’s President Francois Hollande says more French troops are to be deployed in Mali to support the 750 in the country countering an Islamist insurgency.

Francois Hollande said new air strikes overnight had “achieved their goal”. One target was the town of Diabaly, which rebels entered on Monday.

West African military chiefs will meet in Mali on Tuesday to discuss how an alliance with the French will work.

France began its intervention on Friday to halt the Islamists’ advance south.

Late on Monday, the UN Security Council unanimously backed the intervention.

Francois Hollande, on a visit to the French regional military base known as Peace Camp in Abu Dhabi, said: “For now, we have 750 men and the number will increase. New strikes overnight achieved their goal.”

He said that assembling an African military force to work with the French troops could take a “good week”.

Francois Hollande told RFI radio: “We are confident about the speed with which we will be able to stop the aggressors, the enemy, these terrorists.”

The French contingent is expected to rise to 2,500 in the coming weeks.

Witnesses in Diabaly, 400 km (250 miles) north-east of Mali’s capital, Bamako, said there had been heavy air strikes overnight to try to dislodge Islamists who had taken the town from Malian forces on Monday.

President Francois Hollande says more French troops are to be deployed in Mali to support the 750 in the country countering an Islamist insurgency

President Francois Hollande says more French troops are to be deployed in Mali to support the 750 in the country countering an Islamist insurgency

However, Francois Hollande said the Islamists had not captured it, but were merely hiding there “to protect themselves”, adding: “They will be chased out.”

One visitor, Ibrahim Toure, told Associated Press: “They bombed the town all night long. I am hiding inside a house. It only stopped at around 06:00.”

One Malian security source told Agence France-Presse news agency that “at least five Islamists were killed and many injured”.

Some 30 French tanks and armored troop transport vehicles also crossed into Mali from Ivory Coast on Monday, with a helicopter escort, witnesses said.

Nigeria is set to lead the regional force, supplying 600 troops. Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Senegal and Togo have also pledged soldiers. Britain has deployed troop plane transporters.

The African force will be deployed under UN Security Council resolution 2085, which was passed in December and allows for a 3,000-strong mission.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says there will be a donor meeting towards the end of January to discuss the funding of the anti-Islamist intervention.

He also denied the French intervention would boost al-Qaeda recruitment.

“It’s not encouraging terrorism to combat terrorism,” he said.

French war planes have carried out a series of air strikes since the intervention began on Friday.

Islamists are reported to have withdrawn from the major towns of Timbuktu and Gao.

One spokesman for the Ansar Dine militant group, Senda Ould Boumama, said the withdrawal was a “tactical retreat” to reduce civilian casualties.

One resident of Timbuktu told AFP: “The mujahideen have left. They are really scared.”

However, one spokesman for the Islamist group, the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, told AP: “I would advise France not to sing their victory song too quickly. They managed to leave Afghanistan. They will never leave Mali.”

On Monday, the UN Security Council convened in New York for an emergency meeting at France’s request.

France’s UN ambassador Gerard Araud said his country had the “understanding and support” of the 14 other Security Council members.

A meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels on Thursday will discuss EU involvement.

At least 11 Malian soldiers and a French helicopter pilot have died in Mali since Friday’s intervention. More than 100 militants are reported to have been killed.

Islamist groups and secular Tuareg rebels took advantage of chaos following a military coup to seize northern Mali in April 2012.

But the Islamists soon took control of the region’s major towns, sidelining the Tuaregs.

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