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Fifth French soldier killed in Mali campaign

Al-Qaeda in Islamic Maghreb is recruiting

The wreckage of a Malian army helicopter that crashed during a joint training exercise, near the town of Diabaly, central Mali, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

The wreckage of a Malian army helicopter that crashed during a joint training exercise, near the town of Diabaly, central Mali, yesterday. Photo: Reuters

A fifth French soldier has been killed in the country’s nine-week-old military campaign against Islamist rebels in Mali, the government said yesterday.

An explosive device went off under a vehicle carrying Corporal Alexandre Van Dooren during a search for rebel arms caches in northern Mali’s Ifoghas mountains on Saturday, according to France’s defence ministry and the President’s office.

The 24-year-old from the 1st Marine infantry regiment of Angouleme was killed and three other soldiers wounded, the Government added.

France launched a ground and air operation in January to break the Islamist rebels’ hold on the region, saying the militants posed a risk to the security of West Africa and Europe. The offensive has wrested northern Mali from Islamist occupation and killed scores of fighters. Other rebels have retreated into mountain caves and desert hiding places stocked with arms and supplies.

President Francois Hollande issued a statement saying the military operation was at its “final, most delicate stage”.

The United Nations is considering setting up a 10,000-strong force in the former French colony before presidential and legislative elections in July, a deadline a European diplomat described on Tuesday as “a race against time”.

Meanwhile al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) has appealed for recruits from North African Arab countries in its fight against what it said was France’s Crusader campaign in Mali, a US-based intelligence monitoring website reported yesterday.

SITE said the appeal was posted on websites used by AQIM on Saturday, urging Islamist militants being pursued by their governments to join its fighters battling French-led forces in Mali or Algeria.

“The front of the Islamic Maghreb today is in direst need of the support of the sons of Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, and Mauritania, to thwart the attack of Crusader France and defeat its agents in the region,” AQIM said.

However, AQIM also said if Islamist youths in North Africa could have a greater impact in their own countries, they should stay to fight secularism and push for the imposition of sharia-based rule.

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