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French Troops Stop Al Qaeda Group In Its Tracks In Mali

Al Qaeda long march across Mali and much of the Sahara was finally halted on Monday when French forces wrested back a key town after inflicting a series of pinpoint airstrikes.
Five blackened and eviscerated pick-ups stood at the entrance to the town of Diabaly in central Mali, only four or five feet away from unscathed homes made of sun-baked mud.

French troops in armoured vehicles swept past this evidence of their air force's prowess, seizing Diabaly a week after it fell to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). 

After capturing all of northern Mali and threatening to take the rest of the country, AQIM's loss of Diabaly marked their first clear defeat.
Many of the town's 35,000 people were jubilant over the arrival of the French.

Tulfi Traore, told how five of the militant's vehicles parked outside his flat-roofed home, two of which displayed mounted machineguns, were obliterated by the French aerial onslaught.

"The whole roof of my house shook and I just stood by the wall," he said. "I thought I was going to die.".

"I could not believe that the planes had struck these cars without hurting anyone else or collapsing our houses."

AQIM took Diabaly last Monday, moving beyond their stronghold in northern Mali and threatening to open a new front only two days after the onset of the French campaign. As before, they routed the Malian army in a few hours - and the Islamists assured the townspeople that they were here to stay.

"After the conquest, we saw the Islamists walking in the street with weapons, but they were not threatening," said Frandian Bagayoko, 42, who has lived in Diabaly for six years. "They told us, 'We are here for Allah and we are here to impose Sharia. From now on, all women must be covered'."

But the French air raids began within a day of AQIM's arrival - and they had a profound psychological impact on Islamist fighters and ordinary civilians alike. Mamadou Mariko, 40, watched as one strike took place outside the nearby village of Alatona. "I could see the plane moving like a bird, then it just spat out the bomb," he said.

Unnerved by the Mirage and Rafale jets overhead and fearing an advance by French ground forces, who had moved forward to the town of Niono only 40 miles away, AQIM prepared to flee. Their first contingent left Diabaly last Thursday.
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