Islamists pose threat to French interests in Africa
France’s intervention in Mali is driven by the fear of a future threat. But will it increase the danger for Paris in the short term?
Islamists have already vowed revenge.
“France has attacked Islam. We will strike at the heart of France,” said Abou Dardar, a leader of the Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa (Mujao), an offshoot of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).
French President Francois Hollande has also said that “all necessary precautions” would be adopted.
The threat level has been raised a notch, leading to increased surveillance over public buildings, transport infrastructure as well as some embassies and religious institutions.
AQIM is the group that worries the authorities most, but the view amongst most experts is that it does not currently have the capacity and networks on the ground to carry out a serious attack within France in the short term.
However, analysts caution that the group may now increase its efforts to build that capacity.
The group has also put out appeals to like-minded supporters to act – essentially a call for anyone to do what they can independently.
The more immediate worry for France may be retaliation closer to Mali – there are 6,000 citizens in Mali itself but embassies, businesses and private citizens may all be at risk across North Africa.
France has updated its travel advice to citizens in Mali specifically but not ordered a general evacuation.
In the past, US officials have talked of AQIM paying “lip service” to exporting terrorism but said that they were not yet convinced the danger had become real beyond the region.
This intervention could have the effect of galvanising the desire of the groups to strike in Europe.
AQIM’s membership in the Sahel region is reckoned to number several hundred but has been growing recently.
Those heading to Islamist-controlled areas of Mali include Algerians, Nigerians and West Africans.
There have also been reports of some jihadists coming from Europe – including France – although US intelligence officials late last year said they could not confirm their presence.
The threat posed by the groups was transformed by the influx of weapons from Libya trafficked over the border on the same routes used for drugs smuggling.
The greatest fear remains the acquisition of surface-to-air missiles.
Only about a quarter of the SA7s accounted for before the conflict in Libya could be accounted for afterwards, and officials believe it is “almost inevitable” that some are in Mali, although the extent to which they can be deployed is unclear.
what a surprise..so they will have to go back and send more troops into africa..problem reaction solution with the solution already arrived at before the problem is created..