The group of Islamist rebels occupying this dusty northern Malian town at the gateway to Timbuktu had been slaughtering a cow to eat at a small hotel.
The next instant, they were caught in an explosive blizzard of flying concrete and shrapnel.
“They ate no meat. Many were killed, maybe 40,” said Hamidou Dicko, a neighbor who had peered over his mud-brick wall at the hotel - used by the rebels as a base - after the French warplanes attacked late on January 12.
The French air strike against the Hotel N’douli, which once served tourists visiting the Dogon hills or the fabled desert trading town of Timbuktu some 200 km (125 miles) to the north, left scattered limbs and shattered bodies in the courtyard.
The attack was just one of hundreds of French strikes that have characterized the 18-day offensive; sudden, devastating fire-power rained down from the skies that left surviving rebels little option but to flee into the desert.
“The few survivors gathered the dead, put them in trucks and fled,” said Dicko.
French troops launched their first ground assault against Islamist rebels in Mali on Wednesday in a broadening of their operation against battle-hardened al Qaeda-linked fighters who have resisted six days of air strikes.
France has called for international support against Islamist insurgents it says pose a threat to Africa and the West, acknowledging it faces a long fight against the well-equipped militant fighters who seized Mali’s vast desert north last year.
After Islamist pledges to exact revenge for France’s intervention, militants claimed responsibility for a raid on a gas field in Algeria.
Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and banned for life on Monday after the International Cycling Union (UCI) ratified the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) sanctions against the American.
The long-awaited decision has left cycling facing its “greatest crisis” according to UCI president Pat McQuaid and has destroyed Armstrong’s last hope of clearing his name.
“Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling. Lance Armstrong deserves to be forgotten in cycling,” McQuaid told a news conference as he outlined how cycling, long battered by doping problems for decades, would have to start all over again.
“The UCI wishes to begin that journey on that path forward today by confirming that it will not appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and that it will recognize the sanction that USADA has imposed.
A massive police presence restored calm overnight on Wednesday to the French city of Amiens, where arson and gun attacks on police have added law and order to the deep economic problems President Francois Hollande must confront.
The Socialist leader pledged to do all in his power to stamp out unrest two straight days of disturbances in which after 17 police were injured, some by shotgun pellets.
An extra 100 officers were sent to the Fafet district in northern Amiens late on Tuesday, bringing to 250 the number of police patrolling there versus the usual 30, officials said.
“The night in the northern district of Amiens was very, very calm. There were incidents in other parts of Amiens and seven cars were burned but this is sadly something that is a regular occurrence in the city,” a police spokesman said.
Residents have split over the violence, some blaming heavy-handed policing for rioting in which a brand new gym and a nursery school were torched, and drivers were dragged from their cars before the vehicles were set alight.
A major French TV station was reprimanded on Monday over its decision to broadcast leaked recordings of the last words exchanged between Toulouse gunman Mohamed Merah and negotiators, hours before he was killed in a shootout with police.
The emergence of the recordings, in which Merah is heard mocking police and saying he loves death more than life, stirred up emotions still raw three months after the 23-year-old Frenchman carried out a string of deadly shootings in the name of al Qaeda.
France’s CSA audiovisual board summoned several TV and radio stations for having aired the tapes but only reprimanded privately owned TF1 because it broadcast them first and without sufficient warning about their potentially shocking nature.
“I was shocked by the decision to air (the recordings) when I thought of the victims’ families, of those who were injured or otherwise affected by these events,” CSA president Michel Boyon told journalists at a news conference.
Video footage filmed by the French gunman Mohamed Merah during his bloody shooting spree has been sent to the Al Jazeera television network in Paris, a police source said on Monday.
Al Jazeera received a computer memory drive containing a montage of footage accompanied by Islamist war songs, and sent the package on to police on Monday, the source close to the investigation told Reuters.
An Al Jazeera employee contacted by Reuters confirmed the report.
The package was dated Wednesday, March 21, the day that police surrounded Merah in his apartment in the southern city of Toulouse after a massive manhunt, according to a report in the Parisien daily newspaper.
A besieged gunman suspected of shooting dead seven people in the name of al Qaeda boasted to police on Wednesday he had brought France to its knees and said his only regret was not having been able to carry out his plans for more killings.
In an unfolding drama that has riveted France, about 300 police, some in body armor, cordoned off a five-storey building in a suburb of Toulouse where the 24-year-old Muslim shooter, identified as Mohamed Merah, is holed up.
Authorities said the gunman, a French citizen of Algerian origin, had been to Pakistan and Afghanistan, where he claimed to have received training from al Qaeda.
People are not always clothed at these parties. I challenge you to tell the difference between a nude prostitute and a classy lady in the nude.
Henri Leclerc, attorney for former IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in a December radio interview.
Read more: DSK held in French prostitution probe
A worker looks at an Eiffel tower made from lemons and oranges during the lemon festival in Menton, southern France, February 16, 2012.
Some 145 metric tons of lemons and oranges were used to make displays during the 79th festival, which is themed “The regions of France”, and runs from February 17 through March 7. [REUTERS/Eric Gaillard]