Jul 27, 2010 3:22 PM by Melissa Canone
PARIS (AP) - France has declared war on al-Qaida, and matched
its fighting words with a first attack on a base camp of the terror
network's North African branch, after the terror network killed a
French humanitarian worker it took hostage in April.
The declaration and attack marked a shift in strategy for
France, usually discrete about its behind-the-scenes battle against
"We are at war with al-Qaida," Prime Minister Francois Fillon
said Tuesday, a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the
death of 78-year-old hostage Michel Germaneau. The humanitarian
worker had been abducted April 20 or 22 in Niger by al-Qaida in the
Islamic Maghreb, and was later taken to Mali, officials said.
The killers will "not go unpunished," Sarkozy said in
unusually strong language, given France's habit of employing quiet
cooperation with its regional allies - Mauritania, Mali, Niger and
Algeria - in which the al-Qaida franchise was spawned amid an
The Salafist Group for Call and Combat formally merged with
al-Qaida in 2006 and spread through the Sahel region - parts of
Mauritania, Mali and Niger.
Officials suggest France will activate accords with these
countries to stop the terrorists in their tracks.
"It's a universal threat that concerns the entire world ... not
just France or the West," Defense Minister Herve Morin said
Tuesday on France-2 television. "We will support local authorities
so these assassins and (their) commanders are tracked, judged and
taken before justice and punished. And, yes, we will help them."
Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger in April opened a joint
military headquarters deep in the desert to respond to threats from
traffickers and the al-Qaida offshoot. U.S. Special Forces have
helped the four nations train troops in recent years.
Fillon refused to say how France would act. "But we will," he
said in an interview with Europe 1 radio.
And perhaps it already has. On Thursday, the French backed
Mauritanian forces in attacking an al-Qaida camp on the border with
Mali, killing at least six suspected terrorists.
Experts confirmed it was the first attack outside Algeria on an
al-Qaida base, and the first known time France has taken part.
France said it was a last-ditch effort to save its citizen,
while Mauritania said it was trying to stop an imminent attack by
fighters gathering at the base. For the French, the move may have backfired. The al-Qaida group
said in an audio message broadcast Sunday that it had killed
Germaneau in retaliation for the raid. However, French officials
suggested, however, that the hostage, who had a heart problem, may
already have been dead. Even now, "We have no proof of life or
death," Morin said.
"We can expect an increase in the French riposte," said
Antoine Sfeir, an expert on Islamist terrorists who has traveled in
An estimated 400-500 such fighters are thought to roam the Sahel
region, a desert expanse as large as the European Union.
Despite meager numbers, the region's al-Qaida fighters pose a
clear threat. Among the more recent victims, a British captive was
beheaded last year and two Spanish aid workers were taken hostage
in Mauritania in November. Spain is working to free them.
Mauritanian soldiers also have fallen in numerous attacks.
The head of the French Institute of Strategic Analysis suggested
the French government's rhetoric was normal.
"It's important to make that kind of announcement," Francois
Gere said. "I think it's made of the same stuff" as former U.S.
President George W. Bush's tough line on al-Qaida.
But "a government has to make clear it must respond strongly"
while maintaining the discretion needed to ensure cooperation, Gere
said. In the past France has been cautious because those
governments don't want the appearance of interference from the
West, he said.
Spain has maintained a low profile as videos by the al-Qaida
franchise regularly call for the conquest of "al-Andalus" - a
reference to the period of Muslim rule of much of Spain in medieval