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Islamists destroy bridge near Niger border in Mali

AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS This handout picture released and taken on January 22, 2013 by French Army Communications Audiovisual office (ECPAD) shows a C-17 military transport aircraft of the US Air Force (USAF) at the French military air base in Istres, southern France, carrying troops and military equipment to Mali as part of the French military operation codenamed Serval. The Pentagon said on January 22 the US Air Force had deployed C-17 cargo planes for five sorties, carrying more than 80 French troops and 140 tons of supplies to the war-torn African nation. AFP PHOTO / ARMEE DE L'AIR / ECPAD / ALAIN COURTILLAT RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT 'AFP PHOTO / ARMEE DE L'AIR / ECPAD / ALAIN COURTILLAT' - NO MARKETING NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS NO ARCHIVES - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS - TO BE USED WITHIN 30 DAYS FROM 01/21/2013Alain Courtillat/AFP/Getty Images

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Jihad groups

Ansar Dine seeks to impose Islamic law across Mali.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is al-Qaeda's North African wing, with roots in Algeria.

Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa is an AQIM splinter group whose aim is to spread jihad to the whole of West Africa.

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

By The Associated Press
Friday, Jan. 25, 2013, 7:34 p.m.

SEVARE, Mali — Islamists based in the Malian town of Ansongo have destroyed a bridge near the Niger border, officials said on Friday, marking the first use of explosives by the insurgents since the start of a French-led military intervention two weeks ago.

The explosion shows that the Islamists remain a nimble and daunting enemy, despite gains by the French, who have recaptured three towns from the jihadists and on Friday pushed toward the Islamist stronghold of Gao, one of three provincial capitals controlled by the al-Qaida-linked rebels.

Djibril Diallo, the village chief of Fafa, 12 miles from the bridge, said by telephone that he heard that members of the Movement for the Unity and Jihad in West Africa had traveled toward the border with Niger on Thursday and destroyed the bridge crossing into Tassiga. The rebel group had traveled from the locality of Ansongo, roughly 25 miles away.

“They exploded it. It was last night at around 9 p.m. The Islamists left their barracks in Ansongo after the airstrikes, and headed toward Niger. They caused the collapse of the bridge near the town of Tassiga, not far from Niger,” said Diallo.

The attack recalls insurgent tactics used in Iraq and Afghanistan. It appeared aimed at stopping the advance of African troops, stationed in neighboring Niger, who are expected to travel by road into Mali past Tassiga to retake the strategic town of Gao.

The attack causes concern about the bridge leading into the city of Gao, said Malian officials. There were reports that the same rebel group was on the bridge leading to Gao overnight, and that they planned to bomb it, but abandoned the idea.

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