PARIS - President Francois Hollande is pushing hard for military action against al-Qaida-linked militants in northern Mali to quash what he believes is a growing risk of them launching an attack on French soil.

"Hollande is convinced that there is a real risk of terrorism in France. The longer the situation in Mali lasts the greater the risk," said a French diplomatic source.

Mali's former colonial ruler fears al-Qaida's north African arm, AQIM, is cementing its base in the West African state, creating a launch pad from which to target French political and economic interests at home and abroad.

Mali descended into chaos in March when soldiers toppled the president, leaving a power vacuum that led to Islamist fighters, some allied with AQIM, seizing two-thirds of the country.

Complicating matters, AQIM has threatened to kill six French hostages it holds in the region if an attack is launched.

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