Qaeda in new call for reprisal attacks against French interests
DUBAI - A leader of Al-Qaeda in North Africa has urged Muslims worldwide to attack French interests in retaliation for France's military intervention against Islamists in Mali, in a video message posted online.
"It is your duty, all Muslims... to attack French interests everywhere," Abu Obaida al-Annabi said in the recording dated April 25.
French President Francois Hollande reacted swiftly by saying that Paris takes the Al-Qaeda threat "seriously".
Annabi, presented as the head of the council of dignitaries of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or 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.
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.
Paris last month assured Mali that it was not planning an overnight withdrawal of its troops and would provide a permanent support forces of 1,000 French 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, adding that despite considerable losses inflicted on Islamists in Mali, "the terrorist threat has not disappeared."
Annabi's call came 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," Mohammed 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".