BAMAKO, Mali

France launches airstrikes against advancing militants

France launched airstrikes Friday to help the government of Mali defeat al-Qaida-linked militants who captured more ground this week, dramatically raising the stakes in the battle for this vast desert nation.

French President Francois Hollande said the “terrorist groups, drug traffickers and extremists” in northern Mali “show a brutality that threatens us all.” He vowed that the operation would last “as long as necessary.”

France said it was taking the action in Mali at the request of President Dioncounda Traore, who declared a state of emergency because of the militants’ advance.

The arrival of the French troops in their former colony came a day after the Islamists moved the closest yet toward territory still under government control and fought the Malian military for the first time in months, seizing the strategic city of Konna.

INDIANAPOLIS

American Taliban must be allowed to pray in prison

An American convicted of fighting alongside the Taliban must be allowed to pray daily in a group with other Muslim inmates at his high-security prison in Indiana, a federal judge ruled Friday.

Barring John Walker Lindh and his fellow Muslims from engaging in daily group ritual prayer violates a 1993 law that bans the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest, U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson ruled.

The judge blocked the prison from enforcing its ban on daily group prayer, but she noted that her ruling does not prohibit the prison from taking less restrictive security measures.

U.S. Attorney Joe Hogsett said Friday that prosecutors were considering their next step, including a possible appeal.

MEXICO CITY

Protesting crowd demands freedom for stray dogs

Dozens of protesters chanting “Free the dogs, arrest the criminals!” demonstrated outside Mexico City police headquarters Friday, demanding the release of 57 stray dogs seized over five suspected mauling deaths in recent weeks.

The protesters claimed the victims were probably killed by humans. They acknowledged the dogs that live in a hilltop park in an east-side slum where the bodies were found may have bitten the corpses after they were already dead.

“Dog friends, the people are with you!” the protesters chanted, as well as, “The dogs aren’t criminals, the police are inept!”

Autopsies determined that the three women, a teenage boy and a baby found in the park since mid-December died of loss of blood due to bites from multiple dogs.

But those findings have been met with widespread skepticism in a country where drug gangs frequently dump bodies of their victims in public spaces, and prosecutors seldom thoroughly investigate such crimes. The idea has taken hold among many that killers dumped the bodies in the park, hoping that packs of stray dogs would destroy the evidence.

– From news service reports