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Tuareg Fighters In Mali Arrest Fleeing Islamist Militant Leaders

Malian troops near Hambori, northern Mali are driving toward Gao on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.
Jerome Delay
Malian troops near Hambori, northern Mali are driving toward Gao on Monday, Feb. 4, 2013.

Here's a turnabout in Mali: ethnic Tuareg rebels once allied with Islamist militants have captured two militant leaders in the northwestern part of the country as they tried to escape into Algeria.

One leader, Mohamed Moussa Ag Mohamed, is accused of carrying out strict Islamist law in Timbuktu, including amputations and stoning deaths, notes NBC. The other, Oumeini Ould Baba Akhmed, heads an al-Qaida splinter group suspected in the kidnapping of a French hostage. They've been sent to the northeastern Malian town of Kidal, where French and Chadian troops are widening their control.

Northern Tuareg rebels, angry over their treatment by the Malian government in the south, seized control of much of northern Mali last year. At first, they were helped by Islamist militants; but the Islamists soon muscled the Tuaregs aside in the rebellion and set out to control large swaths of Mali on their terms.

Now the Tuaregs have with advancing French and African troops, notes the New York Times. And in a sign of trouble for Ansar Dine, the Islamist group recently split, and one new leader who emerged is rejecting 'all forms of extremism and terrorism', reported the BBC.

French forces have carried out more air strikes in northern Mali, targeting fuel and weapons depots, according to the Associated Press, which says there are now 4,000 French troops deployed there.

Since France says it will try to leave as quickly as possible, Mali's problems with security are under discussion at an international forum in Belgium today. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton tells NPR's Newscasts that humanitarian relief groups are warning that food and fuel are becoming scarce and thousands of Malian refugees have fled into neighboring countries.

And France says police arrested four suspects near Paris today, as authorities investigate whether they were trying to find Islamist recruits to fight, says the AP. France has increased its security efforts to ward off attacks within France and on interests abroad.

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Korva Coleman is a newscaster for NPR.
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