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Mali: jihadist fighters melt away as French begin to regain control

Luke Harding
London Guardian [1]
Jan 28, 2013

Just two weeks after intervening in Mali, French troops, together with the Malian army, have wrested back control of most of the north of the country from Islamist rebels.

At the weekend the French seized back Gao – under jihadist control since last April – securing the airport and the bridge across the Niger river. Thousands of residents turned out to celebrate, shouting “Liberté!” and “Vive la France!” The French suffered no losses with around a dozen “terrorists” killed, the French defence ministry said. The rebels were said to have fled on foot, or by camel, since there was no fuel.

At the same time, a column of French troops were trundling serenely towards Timbuktu, the remote Saharan town that has been a magnet for the intrepid and the foolhardy since the 19th century. French and Malian troops reached Timbuktu’s gates on Saturday, army sources said. The town’s maze of mud-walled mosques and sand-blown streets was deserted. Fighters from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) that took Timbuktu last summer appeared to have left.

Elsewhere, French jets pounded the mountainous rebel-held town of Kidal. Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the AQIM commander behind the recent attack on the Amenas gas facility in Algeria in which 37 workers were killed, is said to be holed up there.

Full article here [1]