Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
News, February 2013
Al-Qaeda-Threat Propaganda Used by French Imperialists to Justify their Invasion of Mali
Al-Qaeda threat propaganda is being used to justify the French imperialist invasion of Mali and to numb French and Western public opinion, as it is clear from the news stories of France 24 below.
Again, Islam and Muslims are being described as extremes and terrorists, the preferred tactic of the global Zionist propaganda machine, in its continuous effort to justify the subjugation of Muslims to the Zionist-controlled governments.
In fact, it is a French imperialist invasion to restore the status-quo after the Arabs and Tawaregs of northern Mali seceded, establishing the country of Azawad.
For the French imperialists, this was perceived as a threat to their supplies of uranium in the region and a clean up of the area from the corrupt politicians who rule it for the benefit of French imperialist interests.
French hostages complicate Mali mission
As French warplanes bombed Islamist bases in northern Mali on Monday, efforts to take back the country’s north have been complicated by the fact that militants still hold seven French nationals hostage.
By FRANCE 24 (text), (AFP)
February 5, 2013
French fighter jets bombed Islamist militant bases in northern Mali on Monday in a drive to disrupt supply routes and flush out combatants in hiding. Yet operations have been complicated by the fact that it is believed the retreating Islamists are holding seven French hostages who were originally kidnapped in Mali and Niger in 2011 and 2012.
Chadian soldiers enter Kidal
About 1,800 Chadian soldiers have entered Mali’s northern city of Kidal to "secure" what was the last stronghold of Islamist rebels, the French defence ministry said on Tuesday.
Chad had promised to provide 2,000 soldiers to the African-led AFISMA intervention force in Mali, which is starting to take shape following a lightning offensive by French forces against the rebels.
The offensive came as France and the US called for African-led forces to swiftly take over military operations in Mali as French-led efforts to retake the north from Islamist control continued for a third week. Troops have made significant gains against militants since the campaign began on January 11, forcing them to retreat from major cities in the north like Timbuktu and Gao. They have also carried out major air strikes targeting logistics and training centres in Mali’s northeastern mountains, which lie near the border with Algeria.
"It is about destroying their rear bases, their depots," Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told France Inter radio on Monday.
"They have taken refuge in the north and the northeast, but they can only stay there long-term if they have ways to replenish their supplies. So the army, in a very efficient manner, is stopping them from doing so."
Meanwhile, the families of four hostages taken in Niger voiced their fears late Monday, saying that while the proximity of French forces "near where they are imprisoned" gave them hope, "the legitimate desire for their liberation should not lead to their sacrifice."
Meanwhile, Shehu Abdulkadir, the Nigerian commander of the UN-backed African force known as AFISMA, said his troops were devising a strategy to free the hostages, but declined to provide any specific details.
Since France first intervened in Mali in January, the government has been eager to pass the baton to the nearly 8,000 African troops pledged to AFISMA, whose deployment has been slow.
"We want to be rapidly relieved by the AFISMA African forces in the cities that we hold," the French foreign minister said.
US Vice President Joe Biden, after meeting with French President Francois Hollande on Monday in Paris, backed that demand and said the United Nations should make the African mission a formal UN peacekeeping operation – a plan UN officials say they are pushing forward.
The UN, African Union and other international players were due to meet in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss introducing long-term peace and stability in Mali once the conflict is over.
Al-Qaeda-linked groups seized control of the bow-tie shaped nation's vast northern triangle in the wake of a coup in Bamako in March last year.
The Islamists initially allied with Tuareg rebels – fighting a decades-old battle for independence of land where they have lived as desert nomads for centuries – but quickly cast them aside and imposed a brutal version of Islamic sharia law.
Northern residents have celebrated throwing off the shackles of harsh Islamist rule, but are now facing food shortages as Arab and Tuareg traders flee out of fear of reprisal.
Al Qaeda silent on French hostages in Mali
Even as French and Malian troops conducted a lightning military offensive in northern Mali, Islamist militant groups refrained from carrying out their threats to execute seven French hostages in captivity.
By Ségolène ALLEMANDOU (text)
For several months last year, as France was leading international diplomatic efforts for an intervention in Mali, al Qaeda’s North African branch warned that a military operation would “provoke” the executions of French hostages in the region.
In a statement released in September 2012, AQIM (Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) threatened that, “These crazy initiatives [for a Malian intervention] will not only lead to the deaths of the hostages, but it will drown the whole of France in the marches of Azawad.”
Azawad refers to the region of northern Mali that fell to a motley mix of rebel groups following a Malian military coup in March 2012.
But since the French offensive to liberate northern Mali began on January 11, there has been an uncharacteristic AQIM silence on the fates of the French hostages.
Seven French nationals are currently being held in the Sahel, the inhospitable southern belt of the Sahara desert. Four hostages were abducted in a uranium mining town in Niger in September 2010. Two others were kidnapped in the central Malian town of Hombori in November 2011. A year later, on November 20, 2012, another French national was abducted near the southwestern Malian town of Nioro by MUJAO (Movement for Unity and Oneness of the Jihad), an AQIM splinter group that sprang up last year in northern Mali.
On Thursday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said it was “likely” that the hostages were being held in the Ifoghas massif region, a remote rock-strewn area of northern Mali near the Algerian border.
In an interview with French radio station France-Inter, Le Drian added that, “We never lose sight or mind of the fact that there are French hostages in this territory.”
‘They’re more useful as human shields’
On January 20 -- nine days after the launch of the Malian intervention -- French officials, who tend to be tight-lipped about hostage issues, revealed that the hostages were “alive”.
In the pre-intervention days, there were some fears that the hostages could be executed in retaliation for a military operation. But that assessment appears to have changed since the French military intervention in Mali began.
"The various jihadist groups have no interest in executing them,” said Philippe Hugon, Africa research director at the Paris-based IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques). “They’re more useful as human shields.”
For jihadists, Western hostages represent a lucrative source of income. “They are commercial products that the Islamist militants are not willing to easily give up,” said Pierre Conesa, a former senior French Defense Ministry official.
Conesa estimates that AQIM could make 150 million euros -- or nearly two-thirds the Malian defense budget -- for seven French nationals. “The money would be then redistributed throughout society, particularly the various intermediaries who participated in the kidnapping," he explained.
The fact that the hostages represent a potential income source could explain why there has been no official threat of execution despite the increased presence of French and Malian troops in northern Mali over the past three weeks.
"For now, I would say that the jihadist groups do not feel threatened enough to feel the need to use their hostages,” said Conesa, who believes the conflict in Mali is only in its first phase. "There is much talk of the victory of the French army, but I think it is actually a position of strategic withdrawal by the jihadist groups,” he said.
Like many experts, Conesa believes that from their remote retreats in the Ifoghas massif, the Islamist militants pose a serious terrorist and security threat. “In this mountainous region near the Algerian border, the fighting will be much more difficult and tense for the Malian and French armies,” said Conesa.
A tacit agreement binding the military to hostage-takers
In the past, French and other European officials have been tight-lipped about negotiations and ransom payments in exchange for their abducted nationals. Nevertheless, there have been numerous reports of ransom payments by European governments over the past few years. Following the Malian intervention, could France be tempted by the prospect of negotiations with the kidnappers?
Hugon believes that for the moment, Islamist groups such as Ansar Dine and MUJAO would be excluded from any prospective talks.
In a phone interview with the AFP on January 26 – shortly before the liberation of the northern Malian cities of Timbuktu and Kidal – a MUJAO spokesman said the group was ready to negotiate the release of Gilberto Rodriguez Leal, the French national who was seized in southwestern Mali on November 20.
Responding to the report, French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault insisted France would not negotiate with the Islamist militants. "We won't get involved in the logic of blackmail," said Ayrault.
According to Conesa, a tacit agreement binds the military action and the kidnappers. "For their part, the French army did not exterminate the Islamists holding them in order to preserve the lives of the hostages," said Conesa, noting that the government would not have been able to stomach the public response to a gruesome hostage execution video.
High-ranking Islamists arrested in northern Mali
Two high profile Islamist militants, one of whom was a member of a group that controlled Timbuktu until last week, have been arrested by a rival armed group.
By FRANCE 2 / Katerina VITTOZZI / Noémie ROCHE (video)
The number-three leader of the armed Islamist group that controlled Timbuktu in northern Mali until last week, Mohamed Moussa Ag Mouhamed, has been arrested near the Algerian border, sources said on Sunday.
"The number three leader of Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith), the one who sowed terror, who ordered people's hands cut off, who supported the strict application of sharia, was arrested by an armed group," a Malian security source said.
Mohamed Moussa, as he was known in Timbuktu, is being taken to the northeastern city of Kidal, the last bastion of rebels who controlled northern Mali for 10 months before being ousted in a French-led military operation launched on January 11, the source said.
Conflicting accounts The information was confirmed by a Kidal regional official, Abdoulaye Toure, though the two sources gave conflicting accounts on which of the area's rival groups had arrested him.
The arrest was believed to have been carried out either by the Azawad National Liberation Movement (MNLA), a Tuareg separatist movement, or an Ansar Dine splinter group, the Islamic Movement of Azawad (MIA).
Azawad is the Tuareg name for northern Mali.
"He was the ideologue of Ansar Dine in Timbuktu," Toure said.
"He was called Ansar Dine's number three, but in reality he was the brain of the organisation, the doctrine in Timbuktu. He was arrested in Hallil near the Algerian border by a (formerly) allied armed group."
French officials say seven French hostages are believed to be held in the area, which is near where 30 French warplanes carried out major air strikes on Sunday.
Kidal, which French and Chadian troops have been working to secure, was an Ansar Dine stronghold, but the MIA recently broke away and renounced "extremism and terrorism".
(FRANCE 24 with wires)
French mission in Mali not over, says Hollande
French troops will withdraw from Mali only once they had completed their mission of helping the country regain full control of its territory, President François Hollande said Saturday during a visit to Timbuktu, where was hailed as a hero.
By News Wires (text)
Cheering, grateful Malians mobbed French President Francois Hollande on Saturday as he visited French troops fighting Islamist jihadist rebels, and he pledged France would finish the job of restoring government control in the Sahel state.
In a one-day trip to Mali accompanied by his ministers for defence, foreign affairs and development, Hollande was hailed as a liberator in the ancient northern city of Timbuktu, which French and Malian forces retook from the rebels six days ago.
He also received a rapturous reception in the capital Bamako, where he said the Islamist fighters allied to al Qaeda had suffered heavy losses in a three-week-old French intervention that he ordered last month at Mali’s request.
Although the insurgents have been driven from Mali’s main northern towns, Hollande cautioned that the task of France’s military operation in Mali, codenamed Serval (Wildcat) and involving 3,500 soldiers on the ground, was not yet over.
“There is still a whole part of the north that remains unconquered ... There are terrorist elements concentrated in some areas of the country, others who are dispersed. There are risks of terrorism. So, we have not yet finished our mission,” he told a news conference at the French ambassador’s residence.
He added France would withdraw its troops from Mali once the West African country had restored sovereignty over all its national territory and a U.N.-backed African military force, which is being deployed, could take over from the French.
“We do not foresee staying indefinitely,” he said, but he spelled out no specific time frame for the French mission.
Mali’s interim President Dioncounda Traore thanked “our brother” Hollande for launching the French intervention. It has cost the life of only one French serviceman so far and has driven the rebels into the mountains of northeast Mali.
“Together we will hunt the terrorists down to their last hiding place,” Traore said.
In Timbuktu, several thousand local residents in colourful robes and wraps sang and danced, shouting “Thank you, France” and “Papa Hollande”. In Bamako, there were similar scenes, with thousands cheering Hollande and waving French flags.
“Vive Hollande, Vive la France,” said one Bamako resident, Sidibe Lisa Camara. “Hollande our Saviour!” read one banner.
The United States and the European Union are backing the Mali intervention as a counter strike against the threat of Islamist jihadists using the inhospitable and ungoverned Malian Sahara as a launch pad for international attacks.
They are providing training, logistical and intelligence support, but have ruled out sending their own ground troops.
Timbuktu to “shine” again
In Timbuktu, the Saharan trading town and seat of Islamic learning that spent 10 months under rebel occupation, Hollande visited the Djingarei-ber Mosque and the Ahmed Baba Institute, a library of ancient manuscripts that was ransacked by the rebels.
Hollande said it was essential that Timbuktu, a UNESCO World Heritage site, should be properly protected so that it could “shine” as a cultural treasure for the world.
Heavily armed French soldiers in armoured vehicles and Malian troops protected the French leader as he visited the mosque, which was built from mud bricks and wood in 1325.
“We have got our old lives back,” said Khalifa Cisse, the muezzin or crier who calls the faithful to prayer at the mosque.
Hollande has repeated that the French operation, where the ground forces are backed by warplanes, helicopters and armoured vehicles, aims to make way eventually for the larger multi-national African force, which is still being put in place.
Drawn mostly from Mali’s West African neighbours, this force is expected to number more than 8,000. But its deployment has been badly hampered by shortages of kit and airlift capacity and questions about who will fund the estimated $1 billion cost.
France’s role in Mali has raised fears of reprisal attacks by Islamist radicals against French and other Westerners.
A Frenchman was among four people killed in Senegal’s southern Casamance region on Friday when suspected separatists clashed with troops, but the incident did not appear to be linked to Mali. Unveiled women dance with joy
The international community has greeted the liberation of Timbuktu with relief. It is a centre of Islamic scholarship in the tolerant Sufi tradition, but the radical Islamist occupiers smashed ancient Sufi mausoleums, calling them idolatrous.
The rebels also destroyed up to 2,000 of some 300,000 priceless ancient manuscripts held in the city. Experts say the bulk of the texts are secure and safe, however.
Timbuktu residents rejoiced at being freed from the severe version of sharia (Islamic law) imposed by the rebels, who had forced women to go veiled and inflicted beatings and amputations. Hollande said Mali’s courts and the International Criminal Court should try those responsible for war crimes.
“These so-called Islamists did nothing but evil to us, they beat people, they cut off limbs,” said Lala Toure, a woman who went unveiled and wore a short-sleeved white T-shirt with the printed words “Thank you France for your help”.
Cisse, the muezzin, said the rebels, grouped in a loose alliance that includes al Qaeda’s North African wing AQIM, had tried to impose an unfamiliar radical form of Islam on Mali.
French air strikes have forced the rebel fighters to retreat into the remote Adrar des Ifoghas mountains near the Algerian border. Hollande said this was where the rebels were holding seven French hostages previously seized in the Sahel.
He called on the jihadists to release the hostages and said everything was being done to obtain their freedom.
The next stage of the fight against the rebels, in a harsh Saharan battleground, could test the French and Malian forces and their African and other allies. (REUTERS)
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