Mali rebels sought in remote lairs

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FRENCH forces searching for al-Qaeda-linked militants in the hidden valleys of the remote north of Mali are now deep in the Islamists’ sanctuary, France’s defence minister said yesterday.

A day after a visit to Mali, Jean-Yves Le Drian said the current phase of the eight-week-old French-led offensive was the hardest, as it required winkling the Islamist fighters out of entrenched positions in the Adrar des Ifoghas mountains.

French soldiers killed about 15 militants this week after discovering a small army of jihadists in the Ametetai valley.

Some 30 French soldiers were wounded in the operation and a French national fighting for the Islamists was taken prisoner, Mr Le Drian told Europe 1 radio.

“Now it’s a bit more difficult because we’re in the sanctuary. We knew this part of Mali was potentially the sanctuary of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and we weren’t wrong,” he said.