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France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has revealed that the pilots of Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali on July 24 had asked to turn back.
Laurent Fabius said the crew of Air Algerie flight AH5017 requested to return to Burkina Faso after initially asking to change course due to bad weather.
The plane’s two flight data recorders have arrived in France.
The jet was flying to Algeria when it crashed in Mali, killing all 118 aboard, including 54 French citizens.
France has taken the leading role in the investigation.
“What we know for sure is that the weather was bad that night, that the plane crew had asked to change route then to turn back before all contact was lost,” Laurent Fabius said on Monday.
A team of French investigators is currently sifting through the plane’s wreckage in Mali, but Laurent Fabius said they were facing “extremely difficult conditions”.
France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has revealed that the pilots of Air Algerie plane that crashed in Mali on July 24 had asked to turn back
“It’s a long, fastidious and extremely complex job,” he added.
French, Malian and Dutch soldiers from a UN peacekeeping force (MINUSMA) have secured the site, about 50 miles south of the Malian town of Gossi, near the Burkina Faso border.
Earlier on Monday, a French official confirmed that the two flight data recorders had arrived in France and were now being examined by experts.
One of the devices was retrieved almost as soon as rescuers arrived on the spot, while the second was found late Saturday.
A source close to the investigation told the AFP news agency that one of them was badly damaged on the outside.
Martine Del Bono, a spokeswoman for the French aviation investigation office, refused to comment on their condition, telling press: “At this stage, we cannot say anymore.”
Even if both “black boxes” are in good condition, French Transport Minister Thierry Mariani has warned that analyzing the flight data and cockpit conversations could take “weeks”.
French flags were lowered to half-mast on Monday for three days in memory of the dead.
Nearly half of those on board were French. There were also 27 from Burkina Faso and further passengers from, among others, Lebanon, Algeria, Canada and Germany.
Among the French contingent on board flight AH5017 was a family of 10.
The plane, a McDonnell Douglas MD-83, had been chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair and all six members of the crew were Spanish.
Al passengers and crew members on board of Air Algerie flight AH5017 died after the aircraft crashed in Mali, says the French President, Francois Hollande.
Francois Hollande said one flight data recorder had been recovered, after French troops reached the crash site near Mali’s border with Burkina Faso.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane early on Thursday after pilots reported severe storms.
The 116 passengers on the Air Algerie flight included 51 French citizens.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 had been chartered from Spanish airline, Swiftair. It was flying from Burkina Faso’s capital, Ougadougou, to Algiers.
There are no survivors from the Air Algerie AH5017 passenger jet that crashed in Mali
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve told French radio network RTL that “the aircraft was destroyed at the moment it crashed”.
“We think the aircraft crashed for reasons linked to the weather conditions, although no theory can be excluded at this point,” he said.
A team of 100 French soldiers, with 30 vehicles, had travelled to the crash site on Friday, a French defense ministry official said.
The team was part of a force that was deployed to Mali last year to combat an insurgency backed by al-Qaeda.
“French soldiers who are on the ground have started the first investigations,” Francois Hollande said on Friday.
“Sadly there are no survivors.”
Contact with Flight AH 5017 was lost about 50 minutes after take-off from Ouagadougou early on Thursday morning, Air Algerie said.
The pilot had contacted Niger’s control tower in Niamey at around 01:30 GMT to change course because of a sandstorm, officials say.
Burkina Faso authorities said the passenger list comprised 27 people from Burkina Faso, 51 French, eight Lebanese, six Algerians, two from Luxembourg, five Canadians, four Germans, one Cameroonian, one Belgian, one Egyptian, one Ukrainian, one Swiss, one Nigerian and one Malian.
The six crew members are Spanish, according to the Spanish pilots’ union.
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The wreck of Air Algerie plane that disappeared with 116 people on board on a flight from Burkina Faso to Algiers has been found in Mali, officials say.
The Burkina Faso army said Air Algerie flight AH 5017 had crashed about 30 miles from the Burkinabe border.
The wreckage has been found south of the Malian town of Gao.
Air Algerie flight AH 5017 had crashed about 30 miles from the Burkinabe border
The searchers mission is complicated by the vast scale and daunting terrain of Mali. The area where the flight is suspected to have crashed is a sparsely inhabited region of scrubland and desert dunes stretching to the foothills of the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains. Much of it lies in the hands of Tuareg separatist rebels, who rose up against the government in early 2012, triggering an Islamist revolt that briefly seized control of northern Mali.
The Malian government has only a weak presence in the region and relies on French and U.N. peacekeepers for aircraft and logistical support.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane early on Thursday after pilots reported severe storms.
The passengers included 51 French citizens.
The McDonnell Douglas MD-83 had been chartered from Spanish airline Swiftair.
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A heavy gunfire is being exchanged between Malian troops and suspected Islamist militants on the streets of Gao in northern Mali.
The clashes began near the central police station but have since spread.
It comes a day after a suicide bomber blew himself up near a checkpoint at a northern entrance to the town – the second such attack in two days.
Gao was retaken just over two weeks ago by French and Malian forces, who supposedly drove out the Islamists.
Security had been tightened in the wake of the suicide attacks, with military patrols stepped up and checkpoints put in place.
The Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao) said it had carried out Sunday’s attack on Malian troops as well as both the suicide bombings, AFP news agency reports.
A heavy gunfire is being exchanged between Malian troops and suspected Islamist militants on the streets of Gao in northern Mali
On Saturday, Mujao spokesman Abou Walid Sahraoui said: “We are dedicating ourselves to carrying out more attacks against France and its allies.”
Sunday’s gun battle appears to have started around the main police station in the town centre, but there is now heavy gunfire coming from different areas.
A Malian soldier holding one army position told him that some gunmen were driving around on motorbikes.
People are barricaded inside their houses and the situation remains unclear.
However, worries that Islamist militants had infiltrated Gao seems to have become reality, as they are waging a guerrilla war in the town.
There was no immediate comment from the Malian and French militaries.
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
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
French-led troops in Mali have taken control of the northern town of Gao, France’s defence ministry has said.
Town of Gao was previously a stronghold of Islamist fighters after it was seized by an alliance of Tuareg rebels and Islamists last April.
French-led troops moved into Gao itself after earlier securing the airport and a strategic bridge to the south.
French officials said troops from neighboring Niger and Chad would now move into the town to help secure it.
They also suggested that government control was already being restored, with the mayor of Gao’s returning on Saturday after being ousted by the Islamist takeover.
There was no official death toll from the offensive, but the French army said “dozens” of Islamist fighters were killed in the overnight operations, without any casualties on the French and Malian side.
After a punishing series of air strikes on jihadist positions in Gao, Malian and French forces took first the airport and then the bridge over the river Niger, before being able to confirm they had taken control of the whole of the town.
Malian officials spoke of scenes of joy on the streets of Gao, but also of some looting.
Gao’s mayor, who has been in the capital Bamako since the town fell to the Islamists early last year, has been flown back in.
French-led troops in Mali have taken control of the northern town of Gao
Chadian and Nigerian forces, meanwhile, are poised to pushed up from the Nigerien border – about 200 km to the south – in order to reinforce the French and Malians.
French-led troops are also reported to be advancing on the town of Lere to the west.
It all appears to confirm a picture of rolling successes for the French and Malians, as they retake the main population centres of the north, says the BBC’s Hugh Schofield in Paris.
The fall of Gao, northern Mali’s most populous town, marks a significant advance for French and Malian troops.
Islamists seized a vast area of northern Mali last year and have imposed strict Sharia, or Islamic law, on its inhabitants.
France intervened militarily on January 11 to stop them advancing further south.
It has already deployed 2,500 soldiers on the ground in Mali as well as launching air strikes.
With the capture of Gao, the French are increasingly confident of pushing the Islamists out of all the major population centres in the north, says our correspondent.
The other major northern towns of Kidal and Timbuktu remain in Islamist hands. But, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said the historic town of Timbuktu – an important symbol which has also been under Islamist control for most of the last year – should also soon be retaken.
The French are confident that this phase of the campaign will soon be over, adds our correspondent, though of course the vast desert hinterland offers the Islamists endless opportunities to retreat and regroup.
The UN refugee agency says more than 7,000 civilians have fled to neighboring countries since 10 January to escape the fighting.
In a statement earlier, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian confirmed that 3,700 French troops were engaged in Operation Serval, 2,500 of them on Malian soil.
Gao was one of the first rebel-held areas to be targeted by air-strikes after France decided to intervene in its former colony, a decision which took many by surprise.
A UN-backed international force had not been expected in the west African state until the autumn.
Several African countries have pledged military aid to help the Malian government win back control of the north.
On Friday the African Union asked the UN Security Council to authorize immediate logistical help to allow the 6,000-strong force to deploy quickly.
It also recommended civilian observers to 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.