France confirms fall of Mali town Diabali to Islamist rebels
BAMAKO/PARIS/NAIROBI - Agence France-Presse
AFP photoFrench Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Monday confirmed that Islamist rebels in Mali had seized the town of Diabali, 400 kilometres north of the capital, in the government-held south.
"We knew there would be a counter-offensive towards the west," he told BFM Television. "They have taken Diabali, which is a small town, after heavy fighting and resistance from the Malian army, which was insufficiently equipped at that exact point."
Mali jihadists seize town north of Bamako: official
Islamists occupying northern Mali pushed further into the government-held south Monday, seizing the town of Diabali, 400 kilometres north of the capital, a local government official said.
The Islamists are in the town of Diabali. They are numerous. This morning they exchanged fire with Malian soldiers then the shooting stopped and the Islamists entered the town," the official said on condition of anonymity.
A Malian security source said the Islamists had "come from the Mauritanian border where they where bombed by the French army." A regional security source confirmed the attack, which he said was being led by Abou Zeid, a leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
"They left the Mauritanian border to avoid raids by French planes," he said.
The French offensive kicked off on Friday to block the advance of Islamist forces towards the capital from their bases in the north which they have controlled since last April.
On Sunday, French Rafale fighter planes struck bases used by Al-Qaeda-linked fighters in Gao and Kidal, two of the main towns in northern Mali.
Sixty Islamists were killed in Gao alone on Sunday, according to residents and a regional security source.
French warplanes attacked jihadist positions in the town of Nampala some 50 kilometres north of Diabali, as well as a base in Lere, near the border with Mauritania.
Shebab post picture of alleged French commander killed in Somalia
Meanwhile, Shebab Somali militants on Monday posted a picture on their Twitter account of an alleged French commando chief killed in a botched hostage rescue operation.
"French commander killed during botched rescue operation in Bulo-Marer," read an accompanying caption to the photo.