Al Qaeda's Africa cell claims responsibility for French slayings

Al Qaeda's West African faction on Wednesday claimed responsibility for the killings of two French journalists working in the region. 

Members of al Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb (AQIM) said the reporters from Radio France Internationale were murdered in retaliation for Paris's massive offensive to oust AQIM fighters from their strongholds in northern Mali. 

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The murders also took place weeks after a botched Navy SEAL raid targeting a top leader within the al Shaabab terrorist organization in Somalia. 

“The organization considers that this is the least of the price which President Francois Hollande and his people will pay for their new crusade,” according to the group's statement on the AQIM-affiliated website "Sahara Media," The Associated Press reports. 

The French nationals were traveling through the northern Malian town of Kidal when they were abducted and summarily executed by AQIM fighters, according to the AP. 

AQIM leader Abdelkarim al-Targui was identified in the statement as the one who killed both journalists. 

A native of Kidan, al-Targui is accused of carrying out two previous kidnappings of French citizens Philippe Verdon and Serge Lazarevic in 2011 in northern Mali. 

Verdon was executed by al Qaeda fighters earlier this year, while Lazarevic remains in the group's custody. 

The slayings are just the latest casualties in the quietly escalating war between Washington and its allies against African-based militant groups. 

The Pentagon is flooding Uganda with more troops and equipment to kill or capture the infamous warlord Joseph Kony.

U.S. commanders have begun setting up small airbases inside Uganda and moving Air Force CV-22 Ospreys and aircrews as part of Washington's expansion of the White House's manhunt for the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) leader. 

The influx of men and material into Uganda will end up doubling the number of American forces on the ground there, representing a dramatic expansion of the Kony manhunt in Uganda. 

“We’re at a new stage in this mission,” Col. Kevin Leahy, commander of the American special forces teams in Uganda, told The Washington Post in October. 

That said, al Qaeda is busily reinforcing its terror factions in Africa. 

In September, the terror network's leadership named Algerian Saeed Abu Muqatil and a Mauritanian named "Aderrahmane" as the new AQIM top commanders 

Abu Muqatil will replace slain AQIM leader Abdelhamid Abu Zeid, who was killed in February by French forces in northern Mali, according to local reports at the time. 

Dubbed the “Emir of the south,” Abu Zaid was killed along with 43 other militants as part of the French counterterrorism offensive. 

The new al Qaeda leadership installed in western Africa represents the terror network's ongoing effort to secure a larger foothold on the continent. 

Groups like al Shaabab and the Nigerian-based Boko Haram are forging closer ties with AQIM, posing an increased risk to American and allied interests in Africa. 

Those affiliations have resulted in the al Qaeda cell evolving into one of the organization's most dangerous factions, second only to al Qaeda's Yemeni cell, known as al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.