Oumar Toure comforts his wife Nicole Obre Toure, a French citizen, as she prepares to leave the region where she has lived for 12 years, in Segou, central Mali, Monday, Jan. 14, 2013. As Islamist militants gained ground Monday morning, Toure decided to move from the village where she lives into Segou, the regional capital. Once there, however, she learned that the French government had ordered the immediate evacuation of French citizens from the area. Despite intensive aerial bombardments by French warplanes, Islamist insurgents grabbed more territory in Mali Monday and moved closer to the capital, French and Malian authorities said. (AP Photo/Harouna Traore)
BAMAKO, Mali (AP) — Despite a punishing bombardment by French warplanes, al-Qaida-linked insurgents grabbed more territory in Mali on Monday, seizing a strategic military camp that brought them far closer to the government’s seat of power.
Declaring France had “opened the gates of hell” with its assault, the rebels threatened retribution.
“France … has fallen into a trap much more dangerous than Iraq, Afghanistan or Somalia,” said Omar Ould Hamaha, a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the rebel groups controlling the north, speaking on radio Europe 1.
French fighter jets have been pummeling the insurgents’ desert stronghold in the north since Friday, determined to shatter the Islamist domination of a region many fear could become a launch pad for terrorist attacks on the West and a base for coordination with al-Qaida in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan.
The Islamist fighters responded with a counter-offensive Monday, overrunning the garrison town of Diabaly, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) north of Segou, the administrative capital of central Mali, said French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
The French Embassy in Bamako immediately ordered the evacuation of the roughly 60 French nationals in the Segou region, said a French citizen who insisted on Login to read more