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January 23, 2013
Fight for Mali town reflects Islamist tactics

DIABALY, Mali (AP) -- Abou Zeid, the shadowy and feared emir of one of al-Qaida's most successful cells, commandeered the packed-dirt home of a family here last week, embedding himself and his hundreds of men in this community of rice growers. He ate spaghetti and powdered milk, read the Quran and planned a war.

His bearded and turbaned men parked cars under the mango trees of the farmers, slept in their bedrooms and turned their courtyards into command centers and their warehouses into armories. And it took eight days before French air strikes finally drove them out of Diabaly, a pinprick of a town, in the first major showdown of the struggle to reclaim Mali's al-Qaida-occupied north.

The tactics used by the Islamist fighters in Diabaly offer a peephole into the kind of insurgency they plan to lead, and suggest the challenges the international community will face in the effort to dislodge them. They show how the Islamists are holding their ground despite a superior French force with sophisticated fighter jets, a fleet of combat helicopters and hundreds of soldiers.

"The only thing that prevented the French planes from annihilating these people is that they were hiding in our homes. The French did everything to avoid civilian casualties," said Gaoussou Kone, a resident of the Berlin neighborhood of Diabaly, where Abou Zeid set up his command center. "That's why it took so long to liberate Diabaly."

(34 images)




French foreign legionnaires get ready in Niono, some 400 kilometers (249 miles) north of the capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A woman who fled northern Mali cooks at a camp for internally displaced persons in the city of Sevare, Mali, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Bamako, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. AP / Thibault Camus
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A boy who fled northern Mali is seen at a camp for internally displaced persons, in the city of Sevare, Mali, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Bamako, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. AP / Thibault Camus
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Women who fled northern Mali are seen at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the city of Sevare, Mali, some 620 kilometers (385 miles) north of Bamako, Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2013. AP / Thibault Camus
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Fishermen return to shore on the river Niger as a man packs his clothes after washing them in Segou, central Mali, some 240kms (140 miles) from Bamako Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Malians hang on the back of a packed minibus as they drive to Marakala, central Mali, some 240kms (140 miles) from Bamako Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. French troops in armored personnel carriers rolled through the streets of Diabaly on Monday, winning praise from residents of this besieged town after Malian forces retook control of it with French help a week after radical Islamists invaded. AP / Jerome Delay
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Malian women sift wheat in a field near Segou, central Mali, some 240kms (140 miles) from Bamako Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Children watch a convoy of French soldiers drive north as the pass through Segou, central Mali, some 240kms (140 miles) from Bamako Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A convoy of French soldiers drives north as they pass through Segou, central Mali, some 240kms (140 miles) from Bamako Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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French foreign legionnaires take position outside Marakala, central Mali, some 240kms (140 miles) from Bamako Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A Malian soldier checks identity papers in the center of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A French soldier secures a perimeter on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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French troops inspect the charred remains of military vehicles used by radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) north of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A Malian soldier salvages a mattress inside a military camp used by radical Islamists and bombarded by French warplanes in Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) North of the capital Bamako, Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A Malian soldier walks inside a military camp used by radical Islamists and bombarded by French warplanes, in Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) North of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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An unidentified man takes a picture of the charred remains of trucks used by radical Islamists on the outskirt of Diabaly, Mali, some 460kms (320 miles) North of the capital Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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In this picture dated Jan. 21, 2013 and released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) French soldiers conduct operations in the bush near Niono, central Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) north of the capital Bamako. AP / Arnaud Roine
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Children and adults alike play soccer on a dusty field in Segou, central Mali, some 240 km (140 miles) from Bamako Monday Jan. 21, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Bystanders stand by a French APC as a French Puma transport helicopter lands to test the field in the center of Niono, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Sunday Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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French troops sit in a cafe in Niono, some 400 kilometers (249 miles) north of the capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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French foreign legionnaires drive through the market in Niono, some 400 kilometers (249 miles) north of the capital Bamako, Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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French troops walk in Niono, some 400 kilometers (249 miles) north of the capital Bamako Sunday Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A French Puma transport helicopter lands to test the field in the center of Niono, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Sunday Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Malian soldiers stand by their APC as a French Puma transport helicopter lands to test the field in the center of Niono, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Sunday Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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A French soldier waits for a French Puma transport helicopter to land on the soccer stadium to test the field in the center of Niono, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Sunday Jan. 20, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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In this picture dated Jan. 20, 2013 and released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) a French soldier checks a map with Malian soldiers as they conduct operations in the bush between Markala and Diabali, central Mali. AP / Arnaud Roine
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Malian soldiers watch French soldiers arrive in Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) north of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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French soldiers enter Niono, Mali, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Travelers are checked by Malian soldiers at a checkpoint in Niono, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Malian soldiers jubilate as they return to Niono, from Diabaly, some 400 kms (300 miles) North of the capital Bamako, Saturday Jan. 19, 2013. AP / Jerome Delay
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Malian soldiers are seen on their way to Markala, Mali, some 240 kms (150 miles) north of Bamako, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. AP / Thibault Camus
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A resident of San in central Mali talks with a French soldier in his vehicle as French troops pass through en route to Sevare, Mali, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. AP / Harouna Traore
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A French soldier talks with young residents of San in central Mali, as French troops pass through en route to Sevare, Mali, Friday, Jan. 18, 2013. AP / Harouna Traore
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In this picture dated Thursday, Jan. 17, 2013 and released by the French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) Nigerian troops for the African-led international support mission to Mali exit a military plane at Bamako airport, Mali. AP / Jeremy Lempin

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