Religious extremists who hold the northern stretches of Mali in their grip promised revenge attacks against the French this weekend after the European country pushed for regional military action to eject them.
“They are the kind of people with whom nothing works except blood and destruction," one extremist wrote Saturday in an online forum used by Islamists, according to SITE Monitoring Service.
The online messages urged militants to attack French companies, factories and citizens in Africa, encouraging them to model themselves on Mohamed Merah, who French authorities say confessed to a string of deadly shootings of soldiers and schoolchildren in France last March before dying in a shootout with police. No authorization was needed to kill the French, one of the messages said, and rebels and their allies “should not hold back.”
The warnings were echoed Sunday by a top official from one of the Islamist groups controlling the north, who told Bloomberg they were disappointed with France and the international community.
“President [Francois] Hollande is risking the lives of all French nationals in Africa and the rest of the world,” Oumar Hamaha, operations chief of the group Ansar Dine, told the news agency by telephone.
Last week the U.N. Security Council asked Mali and its partners to come up with a plan to retake the north, the first step toward giving the green light for military action. West African countries say they will send forces, but want support from the powerful body before acting.
France drafted the resolution, and Hollande has championed calls to stop the extremists, who have ruled northern Mali under a harsh and brutal interpretation of religious law. The French president has argued that the armed groups threaten not just Mali, but the rest of Africa and Europe as well.A coalition of West African nations is to meet Friday with representatives of the African Union and the United Nations in Bamako, Mali's capital, to discuss their next steps.
Mali has been thrown into turmoil this year by a rebellion by ethnic Tuareg in the north and a military coup in the south. Though the military seized power in frustration over the Tuareg advances, the chaos after the coup only helped the rebellion spread. Islamists later piggybacked on the rebels’ gains.
The military has since officially handed off power, but experts say it still holds sway over the government, and it has been accused of abducting coup opponents. The United States and other powers have warned that Mali must not only eject the extremists, but address government instability if the country is to regain its footing.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: Fighters from the Islamist group Ansar Dine stand guard as they prepare to publicly lash a member of the Islamic Police found guilty of adultery in Timbuktu, Mali. Credit: Associated Press