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Al-Qaida offshoot calls on Muslims to attack French interests due to Mali intervention

An Algeria-based al-Qaida offshoot said in an online video on Tuesday that Muslims have an obligation to attack French interests around the world because of France's military intervention in Mali.

In a message posted on YouTube, Abou Obeida Youssef Al-Annabi, a notable in the Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb group, or AQIM, said the "crusade" led by France in Mali makes its interests "legitimate targets."

French President Francois Hollande said he takes the threat seriously. Hollande ordered the Jan. 11 intervention to stamp out AQIM and two other groups of radicals that controlled northern Mali.

The speech by Al-Annabi said the military campaign against AQIM "is an issue of religion being disgraced and a people being annihilated and an identity destroyed." He said, "It is an obligation on you, Muslims, to respond ... by confronting French interests everywhere."

"These interests," Al-Annabi said, "have become legitimate targets for you," warning that France risks falling into "the same swamp which America fell in in Iraq and Afghanistan."

The group had previously threatened French interests but in less dramatic written statements.

France, helped by African forces, quickly pushed AQIM and other jihadists from Mali's main northern cities, including Timbuktu, killing or dispersing jihadists. Special forces and other troops are now in a clean-up phase, searching for scattered fighters and their caches after seizing some 200 tons of munitions and arms.

"We take seriously this threat from AQIM. We have inflicted tremendous loss to AQIM via the intervention in Mali," Hollande said at a news conference. "But AQIM networks exist outside Mali," he noted.

The intervention in Mali will continue "for the time required," Hollande said, while France remains vigilant elsewhere, including protecting French installations.

He noted the April 23 car bomb outside the French Embassy in Tripoli, the Libyan capital, that wounded two French guards and a Libyan girl in a home nearby. No group claimed responsibility for that attack.

French authorities have said they were increasing security around Africa's Sahel region where Mali, a former colony, is located as well as in the Middle East. In France, there is extra surveillance at monuments and facilities that draw the public such as airports.

France has nearly 4,000 troops in Mali. They have been joined by African forces, including from Chad, and soldiers from other African nations are being trained to replace French forces as they make a staggered departure. However, French authorities have said that there will still be 1,000 troops in Mali by the end of the year, along with U.N. peacekeeper, as the nation prepares for presidential elections, perhaps as early as July.

AQIM emerged in 2006 from a previous movement of radical Algerian insurgents, and bit by bit spread its extremism around a large area of the Sahara. By last year it reigned over northern Mali.

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Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

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