Mali rebels seize 2 Islamists

France deploys 3,500 troops, war planes in Operation Survival

Tuareg rebels in northern Mali said on Monday they had captured two senior Islamist insurgents fleeing French air strikes towards the Algerian border, and France pressed ahead with its bombing campaign against al-Qaeda’s Saharan desert camps.

Pro-autonomy Tuareg MNLA rebels said they had seized Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, an Islamist leader who imposed harsh sharia law on the desert town of Timbuktu, and Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed, believed to be responsible for the kidnapping of a French hostage by the al-Qaeda splinter group MUJWA.

“We chased an Islamist convoy close to the frontier and arrested the two men the day before on Sunday,” Ibrahim Ag Assaleh, spokesman for the MNLA, said from Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso. “They have been questioned and sent to Kidal.”

France has deployed 3,500 ground troops, and warplanes and armored vehicles in its three-
week-old Operation Serval (Wildcat) in Mali which has broken the Islamists’ 10-month grip on northern towns, where they imposed sharia law.

Paris and its international partners want to prevent the Islamists from using Mali’s vast desert north as a base to launch attacks on neighboring African countries and the West.

The MNLA, which seized control of northern Mali last year only to be pushed aside by better-armed Islamist groups, regained control of its northern stronghold of Kidal last week when Islamist fighters fled French airstrikes into the nearby desert and rugged Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.

The Tuareg group says it is willing to help the French-led mission by hunting down Islamists. It has offered to hold peace talks with the government in a bid to heal wounds between Mali’s restive Saharan north and the black African-dominated south.
“Until there is a peace deal, we cannot hold national elections,” Ag Assaleh said.

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