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Malian soldiers ride a pickup truck as they look for Islamists/AFP


Fears of ‘catastrophic’ violence in tense Mali

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Around 90 percent of Malians are Muslim, but the Islamist extremists’ hardline ideology is not broadly accepted.

“Supporting the Muslims in Mali is a duty for every capable Muslim with life and money, everyone according to their ability,” AQAP’s sharia committee said in a statement reported by the US-based SITE Intelligence agency.

AQAP — which US officials have labelled Al-Qaeda’s most dangerous franchise — said jihad is “more obligatory on the people who are closer” to the fight and that “helping the disbelievers against Muslims in any form is apostasy”.

That was an apparent reference to north African countries, notably Algeria, which agreed to let French warplanes use Algerian airspace. Islamist gunmen subsequently attacked a gas field there, unleashing a hostage crisis that left 37 foreigners dead.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al-Qaeda’s north African branch, is one of the groups that seized control of northern Mali for 10 months after the March coup, along with the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith).

Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird echoed the fears of many observers Tuesday when he made it clear that Canada would not send troops to a peacekeeping mission.

“We’re not, at the drop of a hat, going to get into another Afghanistan in this region,” he told lawmakers. But requests for financial assistance and military trainers are being considered.

France launched its intervention on January 11, after Mali’s interim government called for help fending off the Islamist insurgents as they advanced into southern territory.

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After pushing the rebels from the towns under their control, France is eager to wind down the operation and hand over to United Nations peacekeepers.

Gao, the largest city in the north, has been hit by suicide bombings and street battles in recent days. On Tuesday, troops from Mali and Niger were patrolling the nearly empty streets, brusquely interrogating the few people they encountered.

The European Union said it would resume aid to Mali worth up to 250 million euros ($336 million) that was suspended after the coup.

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