France: The state of terrorism

An interview with Michèle Alliot-Marie, French Minister of the Interior.      


Q: Seven years after Sept 11, Afghanistan is again a bastion of Islamist terrorism.  Are young Jihadists leaving France to train in this region?

A: Our agencies have effectively established that French visit today in the Pakistani-Afghani area in order to get education and training.  The data is confirmed by several European or non-European intelligence agencies

Q: how many candidates for the holy Afghan war have you identified? A dozen?

A: Certainly more than a dozen.  Specialists in fighting terror are following these networks.  Beyond the resurgence of these Pakistani-Afghani channels, we also intervened several times in the course of the year in order to bring to an end the existence of groups linked to Al Qaida or the Islamic Maghreb in our own territory.  Thus alleged members of a terrorist group in Central Asia have recently been arrested in Mulhouse, where they sent money and equipment for Jihad.  At Toulouse and in eastern France extremists were arrested while maintaining paramilitary training.

Q: In this difficult context, what is the balance sheet of the French anti-terrorism agencies?

A: I can tell you that 89 Islamic activists were arrested in France in 2007.  And that 55 others were arrested on our soil since the beginning of the year.

Q: How are these new terrorist cells born?

A: French prisons are a place of privileged recruitment for Islamist radicals.  It's one of my concerns.  I come moreover to propose to my European counterparts to develop a handbook on Islamism in prison to inform security professionals on how to detect and prevent this type of recruitment.   Certain problem areas in our suburbs also remain choice targets for Salafist activities.  The youth are then sent to theological education in the Muslim world and attend Koran schools, like the madrassas of Pakistan, Egypt and Yemen.

Q: The Iraqi network had dried up?
A: Iraq remains an attractive point for certain Islamists, but the Afghani-Pakistani networks are undeniably strengthened. Today, the places for indoctrination and training is concentrated again in this area.

Q: Do you see other threats coming up on the Islamist front?

A: What's happening on the internet we mobilize more and more.  Groups communicate with each other in this way.  European cooperation between ministers of the interior prove indispensable for ensuring effective watch on the messages they exchange. In additional, it's essential to increase the inspection at the borders in order to identify the networks or terrorists who try to penetrate into our country.   For five countries at risk, like Pakistan or Yemen, we do communicate, in agreement with the airlines, the names and dates of departure and arrivals of passengers reported as dangerous.  We wants to extend this watch to other countries and to flights with a stopover, which would prevent for example going through Switzerland when coming from Pakistan in order to cover up tracks.  Finally, we would like to know if passengers travel alone or accompanies.  It's important to prevent hijacking of planes.

Q: Africa is not spared.  After the four French killed in Mauritania, a French engineer assassinated last June in Algiers.  Should we again fear for our citizens?

A: Unfortunately yes.  I remember having to do away with a stage of the Paris-Dakar in Mali because I had information concerning a very precise threat.  After six and a half years, at the ministry of defense then at that of the interior, I had observed changes in the structure of al-Qaida.  From a centralized organization we've moved to a myriad of autonomous networks, then in recent years to groups around movements like the former group Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat re-baptized the al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).  AQMI threatens today French interests throughout the Maghreb and its influence extends to the Sahel. Another more important danger is that the terrorists have changed tactics.  Several leads of the Gulf countries have confided in me that attacks organized well in advance are yielding to opportunistic attacks, unplanned and committed by individuals indoctrinated through the internet. These last one are sometimes not even part of a network.  This new threat is therefore much more difficult to identify and follow up on.

Q: In France, terrorism also includes violent pro-independence movements.  In Corsica, what is the situation after the controversial transfer of the police force coordinator?

A: Terrorism in in steady decline.  Even if we regret a small revival in the last quarter, we recorded 181 attacks on the island in 2007, compared to an average of 235 in 2006.  Since Jan. 1st, there have been only 62 attacks.

Source: Figaro (French)

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