France on terrorism alert amid Mali, Somalia drives
BAMAKO / PARIS
A French soldiers patrols infront of the Eiffel tower, Sunday, Jan. 13. AP photoFrance was in a state of high alert yesterday as military action against militants in Mali and Somalia triggered fears of a backlash on home soil.
Armed troops patrolled rail and subway stations in Paris and security around airports and public buildings was stepped up as Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian admitted that the authorities were monitoring suspected Islamic militants based in France.
Le Drian acknowledged there were Islamic radicals based in France who are thought capable of becoming involved in terrorist actions, but he stressed that these individuals were subject to tight surveillance. President François Hollande said Jan. 12 that he has ordered tightened security in public buildings and transport. He said France “has to take all necessary precautions” in the face of a terrorist threat, including “surveillance of our public buildings and our transport network.”
The increased security came as French warplanes bombarded militant bases in Mali for a third day, and in the aftermath of a botched commando raid in Somalia to free a French intelligence agent who had been held there since 2009.
Niger, Burkina Faso, Senegal and Nigeria agreed to send soldiers after France authorized airstrikes.
Britain has offered the use of its transport planes in order to help bring in the soldiers, while Germany ruled out sending troops. Le Drian said France had international support for the moves and that “the Americans seconded us” with intelligence and logistical support. Storage hangars and “sensitive sites” were among targets destroyed so far and the Islamists have lost a “significant number” in the fighting, Le Drian said, adding, “The intervention is still in progress and will continue.”
The first significant crack in domestic support for the intervention appeared yesterday when former French prime minister, Dominique Villepin, warned that the operation was destined to fail. A French pilot was killed and more than 100 militants have been killed in the operations. A top official of the armed Islamist group Ansar Dine was also killed.
The human toll has not yet been calculated, but a communiqué read on state television said that at least 11 Malians had been killed in Konna. Hollande also came under criticism after at least eight civilians were killed in the disastrous operation to rescue a kidnapped secret agent, but Minister Le Drian defended the decision to launch the raid.
Sources in Somalia suggested the reason that the Jan. 12 raid failed was that the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group holding the hostage received advance warning. Defense Minister Le Drian said one French soldier died and another had gone missing during the raid, adding that 17 militants had been killed.
“All indications” point to the conclusion that the hostage, a French intelligence agent with the alias of Denis Allex, had been killed by his captors.
Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.