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Qaeda in North Africa urges hits on French interests

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

A leader of Al-Qaeda in North Africa has urged Muslims worldwide to attack French interests in retaliation for France's military intervention in Mali, a threat President Francois Hollande said is being taken seriously.

"It is your duty, all Muslims... to attack French interests everywhere," Abu Obaida al-Annabi said in a video message posted online.

Annabi, presented as the head of the council of dignitaries of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), called for "full mobilisation" to combat the "new crusade of France."

"Jihad (holy war) is now the duty of every capable among you," he said in a recording dated April 25.

France sent troops in January to Mali to quash Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had taken control of half of the country.

French troops fighting alongside the Malian army and other African soldiers have largely succeeded in driving Islamist insurgents from the north, but pockets of resistance remain, particularly in the Gao region.

France has begun withdrawing some of its 4,000 troops and said it will leave 2,000 soldiers on the ground throughout the summer.

Last month, Paris assured Mali that it was not planning an overnight withdrawal and would provide a permanent support forces of 1,000 soldiers after elections slated for July.

"If the French president wants his crusade to be quick, short and limited, to spare his country descending into a swamp like that faced by Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is your duty to foil his plan and drag him into an open war," said Annabi.

He said such a war should "drain France's economy, exhaust its capabilities, and push it into a recession and contraction."

Hollande offered a swift reaction to Annabi's call.

"We are taking seriously the threat by AQIM," Hollande told reporters in Paris, adding that despite considerable losses inflicted on Islamists in Mali, "the terrorist threat has not disappeared."

"So we believe we must continue the operation in Mali for as long as it takes -- even if we reduce our presence -- and stay vigilant around Mali to continue the fight against terror."

Hollande said he had ordered measures to protect French installations abroad.

The AQIM threat comes after a car bombing at France's embassy in the Libyan capital Tripoli last month, which wounded three people. No group has claimed responsibility for the attack.

It also comes days after Mohammed al-Zawahiri, the brother of Al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri, issued a similar threat.

"France is playing with fire... By attacking Mali, France lit the fuse and will suffer the consequences," Zawahiri told French weekly Le Point last month.

"The reaction of jihadi fighters is likely to be strong, be it in Mali or on French territory.

"France kills our children, we must respond. We have neither bombs nor planes, but our resources allow us to take hostages to defend ourselves," said the Egyptian Islamist.

Ayman al-Zawahiri, who succeeded Osama bin Laden as Al-Qaeda chief in 2011, had already warned France at the beginning of April that it would meet in Mali "the same fate as America in Iraq and Afghanistan".

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130507/qaeda-north-africa-urges-hits-french-interests