Hundreds of jihadist fighters, mainly from Sudan and Western Sahara, arrived in northern Mali over the weekend to support the Islamist groups ahead of the planned regional intervention.
The armed Islamists have already enforced a harsh version of sharia law there, forcing women to cover their heads and banning cigarettes, alcohol and music.
In one incident Islamists stoned an unmarried couple to death. They have also amputated the limbs of thieves and whipped people accused of having violated their interpretation of Islamic laws on marriage and the drinking of alcohol.
Earlier Wednesday, France’s defence minister backtracked from a suggestion that military intervention in Mali was imminent, cautioning that preparations to deploy the African force remained at an early stage.
Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that military action would happen in “weeks not months”.
But he told Radio France International: “It is not the time for intervention at the moment. Right now it is about putting in place the preparations requested by the UN Security Council.”
France has led the push for military action in Mali, a former colony where six French hostages are currently being held by Islamist groups. It has promised to support the African force with training, logistics and equipment.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is due in Algeria next Tuesday, where one of the topics of discussion will be the crisis in neighbouring Mali.
Algeria and Mauritania, which both share borders with the rebel-held north of Mali, have called for dialogue to reach a political solution to the crisis.
Both have ruled out sending troops into Mali to battle Islamist militia.