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January 13, 2013

French Planes Bomb Rebel Positions in Mali

by Lisa Bryant

France attacked Islamists targets in Mali for the third straight day on Sunday, bombing an key northern town held by the extremists.

French fighter jets bombed the northern Malian town of Gao, even as West African troops were due to arrive to help Bamako beat back an Islamist insurgency.

In a television interview, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the air raids would continue Monday.

Le Drian said roughly 400 French soldiers have been deployed to Bamako, to ensure security and protect French and European nationals.  More French troops were dispatched to the town of Mopti, about 500 kilometers north of the capital.

Launched Friday, the attacks aim to eradicate an Islamist insurgency that was making inroads to the south last week, after capturing vast chunks of territory in northern Mali.  France says the Islamists not only threaten Mali and surrounding countries, but also Europe.

Paris has also notched up its terrorism alert, underscoring concerns extremists may launch retaliatory attacks in the city and against more than half a dozen French hostages held by Islamists in West Africa.

News reports describe Bamako as calm, with some cars sporting French flags.  The offensive has earned praise in Europe and West Africa.

Residents in Gao say the Islamists who occupied their town and imposed Islamic Sharia law have fled.  Interviewed on French radio, the town's mayor, Diallo Sadou, hailed the French attacks.

Sadou thanked France for its courage to have launched the offensive, and said he hoped God was protecting the French hostages.

One French soldier has died since the French airstrikes began Friday.  The Malian government says at least 11 of its soldiers have been killed and another 60 injured.