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France has reaffirmed that it is prepared to provide support for a military intervention in northern Mali, despite an apparent al-Qaeda threat that French hostages being held in the region will be killed if they do so.

A message posted on a Mauritanian news site purportedly from al-Qaeda’s north African branch read:

“This crazy action would not only result in the execution of hostages, but also drown the whole of France in the marshes of Azawad.”

A spokesman from the French military, General Martin Klotz said: “France is willing to give support, as part of an African initiative, under the mandate of the United Nations.”

A region the size of France was taken over after a military coup on 21 March left a power vacuum that allowed Tuareg rebels to seize control, but the rebellion was then hijacked by Islamists who began imposing Sharia law in the area.

France has agreed to provide logistical support and intelligence but will not be sending in its soldiers.

However, at the request of the Malian government, a West African regional grouping has been considering sending more than 3,000 troops.

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