Over the weekend, the rebels made their way to the rice-growing region, just north of the main city in central Mali, Segou. The rebels cut across in a knifing movement, first cutting in through the road connecting Diabaly, home to an important military camp and a population of 35,000, and Niono, the last town before Segou.
France ordered the evacuation of the roughly 60 French citizens living in the area of Segou. They pounded the area around Diabaly with bombs all night from Monday, resuming again on Tuesday afternoon, said Ibrahim Toure, a man who irons laundry for a living and who spent the past two days cowering inside a mud-walled home.
‘‘They bombed Diabaly. They bombed the town all night long. I am hiding inside a house,’’ said Toure. ‘‘Everyone is afraid to go out.’’
During French President Hollande’s stop in the United Arab Emirates, he said ‘‘We are confident about the speed with which we will be able to stop the aggressors, the enemy, these terrorists.’’
The Islamists taunted the French, saying that they have vastly exaggerated their gains, and added that his fighters had seized ‘‘tonnes and tonnes’’ of weapons at the Diabaly military camp. He claimed they killed many of the soldiers there. The survivors ran away on foot, a claim that was confirmed by a security official in Bamako, who could not be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
‘‘I would advise France not to sing their victory song too quickly. They managed to leave Afghanistan. They will never leave Mali,’’ said Oumar Ould Hamaha, a commander of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, one of the extremist groups controlling northern Mali, whose fighters are believed to be in Diabaly.
‘‘It’s to our advantage that they send in French troops on foot,’’ Hamaha said. ‘‘We are waiting for them. And what they should know is that every French soldier that comes into our territory should make sure to prepare his will beforehand, because he will not leave alive.’’
Associated Press writers Cassandra Vinograd in London, and Lori Hinnant, Elaine Ganley and Sylvie Corbet from Paris contributed to this report.