ATbar France at war with Al Qaeda
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France at war with Al Qaeda

19/02/2011 | by Shay, Shaul (Dr.)  

On January 21, 2011,Osama ben Laden demanded that France withdraw its troops from Afghanistan in exchange for the release of French hostages being held by al-Qaeda affiliates, according to an audio message broadcast on Al Jazeera an Arabic news channel. [1]

"My message to you, today and in the past, is one and the same: The release of your prisoners held by our brothers is dependent upon the withdrawal of your troops from our countries. If you consider this a political dictate and 'despicable terrorism,' while you consider the expulsion of Hitler's forces from your lands an act of heroism and 'blessed terrorism,' then you are applying a double standard.

"Oh, the French people, your president's refusal to withdraw from Afghanistan stems from his subordination to the U.S. By this refusal, [Sarkozy] has given the go-ahead for the immediate killing of your prisoners, so he could rid himself of the prisoners' case and its consequences. Nevertheless, we will not do it at the time determined by him. This position of his will cost both him and you dearly on several fronts, in France as well as abroad. You know full well that, given the extent of your debts and the weakness of your economy, you can do without opening new fronts." [2]

This is the second tape that al-Qaeda's leader has released blasting French policy and linking the French presence in Afghanistan to the kidnapping of its nationals in Afghanistan and Niger.

On October 27, 2010, he warned in a video that France's security depended on an Afghanistan pullout and end of its "injustices" against Muslims.[3]

In a video broadcast in April 2010, the Taliban of Afghanistan threatened to kill the two French journalists unless their own prisoners were released.[4]

In January 2011, two Frenchmen abducted from a restaurant in the Niger capital Niamey were found dead in Mali after a failed attempt by French special forces to rescue them from an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) , convoy.

There are several factors that made France a high priority target of Al Qaeda :

· France has about 3,850 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO mission fighting the Taliban.

· France provides military ,economic and political support to the "secular" regimes in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.

· The French Senate voted to ban burqa-style Islamic veils in France, a subject that has prompted warnings by AQIM. 7

France has eight hostages held across the world, five held by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Niger, two in Afghanistan held by the Taliban, and one in Somalia.

In July 2010, France has declared war on al-Qaeda, and matched its fighting words with a first attack on a camp of the AQIM, after the terror network killed a French aid worker it took hostage in April 2010. "We are at war with al-Qaeda," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the death of 78-year-old hostage Michel Germaneau.[5]
The declaration and attack marked a shift in strategy for France, usually discrete about its behind-the-scenes battle against terrorism.

The French hostages in Afghanistan

Cameraman Stephane Taponier and reporter Herve Ghesquiere, who work for France 3 public television, were seized along with three Afghan colleagues in December 2009 in the mountainous and unstable Kapisa province, east of Kabul. Taliban militants in Afghanistan are threatening to kill two kidnapped French journalists unless their demands are met, including the release of some detainees held by France.[6]

In a video posted on the Taliban's website,, on April 12, 2010, the journalists were shown in separate clips. Speaking in English and French, one read a lengthy statement saying that if the full video is not aired on French TV, the journalists will be killed, along with their translator and driver. "The French president, Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy, must understand that we are now in danger of death. I repeat: the French president much negotiate very quickly - otherwise we will be executed soon," he said.[7]

In a written statement, the Taliban said they have submitted a list of detainees to the government of France "for release as an exchange for the two Frenchmen and their Algerian colleague." It added, "There is no other option for the release of the said detainees except the option of detainees exchange." The statement described the detainees as "miserable" and "living a life under torture and brutalities."


France 3 revealed in December 2010 that a new video which the kidnappers made a month earlier had been released to French authorities, although not made public. French officials have authenticated the video and they appeared to be in good health. France-3 television station announced that the journalists had recorded messages to their families in a video. Taponier's parents were shown the film at the foreign ministry in Paris and said afterwards that the two hostages appealed in the video to their government for help and looked thin but in good shape.[8]

The French government has said securing the release of the journalists was an "absolute priority."

The Kidnappings of French in Somalia

Two French advisers on an official mission of assistance to the Somali government were kidnapped on July 14, 2009, in Mogadishu by armed men.[9]

The French advisers were abducted when about 10 gunmen arrived in a car and a pickup truck mounted with machine guns at the Sahafi Hotel in Mogadishu and disarmed the hotel guards, then several gunmen went door-to-door inside the hotel until they found the foreign men.Then the kidnapped French were split up between the rebel groups al-Shabab and its ally Hizbul-Islam bothAl Qaeda affiliated groups. [10]

On August 26, 2009, Marc Aubriere one of the two abducted French, has escaped while his captors slept, the second hostage is still being held.[11]


The AQIM kidnappings

The AQIM has kidnapped 20 westerners in the Sahel region of north-central Africa over the past two years and is holding five French citizens since seizing them in northern Niger last September (2010).

The death of the two Frenchmen brings to four (three Frenchmen and one Briton, Edwin Dyer beheaded by the AQIM in 2009), the number of foreign hostages killed in the Sahel region — Niger, Mali, Algeria and Mauritania — in the past two years.

In April 2010, a French engineer, Michel Germaneau, 78, was kidnapped in the north of Niger as he supervised the construction of a school for an aid organization. He was killed in July 2010 by AQIM, which said it was taking revenge for the deaths of AQIM fighters three days before in a French-Mauritanian raid in Mali.

On September 16, 2010, Gunmen kidnapped five French nationals and two Africans (one from Madagascar and one from Togo), in the town of Arlit in northern Niger. The men, who were snatched from their homes in the remote desert north of the country, work for France's state-owned nuclear giant Areva and a subsidiary of the French construction company Vinci.[12]
The hostages include two employees of the French nuclear energy firm Areva and five with the French construction company Vinci. The attackers entered the town at around 2 a.m. and made their way through streets patrolled by 350 soldiers, and past the gate to the VIP residential area where the foreign employees of the nuclear company live. Both the gate and each of the houses where the employees lived was guarded by security personnel.[13] Officials say they believe the kidnappers took the hostages to mountainous area in neighboring Mali.[14]

On September 23, 2010, the militant group Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping :

AQIM spokesman Salah Abi Mohammed has warned the French government against any sort of "stupidity".

"In announcing our claim for this operation, we inform the French government that the mujahideen will later transmit their legitimate demands," said Mohammed on the tape. "Despite the high military preparations in the area and the security belt around it, those lions of Islam were able to break in and kidnap five nuclear experts who work for Areva," the message said. "So we claim our responsibility to this blessed operation and we tell the French government that our fighters will deliver their lawful demands to them." The message noted that the Niger region "is one of the world's most important uranium producing areas" and that France has stolen the "strategic resource for decades." "We want to remind our Muslim brothers and public opinion that the uranium thieves caused the killing of thousands of poor Muslims in the area and abusing them in those mines and exposing them to dangerous radiation from radon gas while denying them any protection or health care," the message said. "The crusaders' companies who steal our resources and abuse our sons should know that the fighters' goals are lawful and they must leave. The message was posted on Islamists websites that have carried messages from al Qaeda in the Maghreb in the past.

On October 1, 2010, the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television station aired, the pictures of the seven French and African hostages sitting on the ground with armed men behind them.

Areva's uranium mining operations in Niger are of crucial importance to the local economy, and to France. About half of France's nuclear energy derives from Niger's huge uranium deposits, and French uranium trade accounts for about 75% of revenue in Niger, whose per capita annual income is just $353.[15] .

Areva had ample warning of an al-Qaeda attack. Two weeks before the kidnapping, a local police commander in northern Niger faxed a letter to French companies in the area, warning them that al-Qaeda seemed to be planning an assault on foreign workers.


President Nicolas Sarkozy said that France plans to "mobilize all of its state agencies" to free the people…the president considers this a very serious affair," spokesman Luc Chatel told reporters.
France has sent a military intelligence unit to the region, but has said it wants to open communication with the militants in hopes of freeing the five French nationals and two Africans. A source close to the Niger government said that around 100 French specialists in anti-terrorism had arrived in Niger to help hunt for the hostages.

On January 6, 2011, two Frenchmen Antoine de Leocour, an aid worker in Niger, and his friend Vincent Delory, both aged 25, were kidnapped from a restaurant in Niamey the Niger capital. Reportedly they were kidnapped at gunpoint by four armed men wearing turbans who tried to take them into Mali.

The hostages were pursued by Niger’s military, with French military help, and were intercepted at the border with Mali. After a firefight, the hostages were found dead. The French defense minister, Alain Juppé, said in a statement:[16]

“The terrorists were intercepted at the Mali border and several of them were neutralized. After the fighting , the two hostages were found dead.” Mr. Juppé said that the operation was “coordinated” by French forces based in the region that participated in the firefight at the border.

A French military spokesman, Thierry Burkhard, said that Niger’s national guard and a French surveillance plane pursued the kidnappers into the desert. Reports suggest that, some 100km from Niamey, the troops mounted an attack which resulted in one Niger commander being injured. A second attack followed shortly afterwards, when soldiers and French commandos intervened to prevent the kidnappers crossing the Malian border. Three Nigerian soldiers were killed, two French soldiers were injured and four militants were killed ,the French military spokesman said.[17]

An audio message attributed to AQIM was sent to Reuters news agency and broadcast on the television channel al-Jazeera.. In the audio AQIM spokesman said: "A group of mujahideen carried out on Friday 7 January a brave operation in the heart of the Niger capital Niamey, where they broke into the secured diplomatic neighborhood and succeeded in kidnapping two Frenchmen," it said. "Two battles took place between the mujahideen and French-Niger forces, resulting in a major failure in the attempt to rescue the hostages."[18] He claimed that two French special forces members were killed and that 25 Niger officers were injured.[19]

French President Nicolas Sarkozy said he learned with “profound sadness” of the Frenchmen’s deaths, and condemned the kidnapping and deaths of the two hostages as “a barbaric and cowardly act”.[20]

Summary and Conclusions

France has to respond to challenges of Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan, Al Qaeda affiliated organizations in Somalia and AQIM in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.

At the end of October 2010, then French defense minister Herve Morin raised the possibility of the start of a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2011 while stressing it would not be linked to Al-Qaeda's threats.

In response to Ben Laden's threats, French President Nicolas Sarkozy, has said his nation remains undaunted in its role to help stabilize Afghanistan and French Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said that "We are determined to continue our efforts on behalf of the Afghan people, with our allies."

France has had a long history of struggle with various forms of terrorism and over the past decade has achieved particular success against Algerian Islamic terrorist groups - the GIA and GSPC - with close links to Al-Qaeda.

AQIM's growing presence in the Sahel region and the increasing number of abductions of European tourists in Mauritania, Niger, Tunisia and Mali show that a profitable kidnapping industry has led to an increase in terrorism activity in this region. AQIM's activities were previously based along Algeria's Mediterranean coast, but security crackdowns by the Algerian military have forced the group into the largely ungoverned Sahara desert area of Mali, and along Algeria's northern border.

Owing to the weakness of these states and their ineffective control of the area, AQIM militants are free to move across borders and to establish their bases in the region. This situation enables AQIM to combine its ideological goals with a series of tactical advantages. AQIM relies on local communities of the Sahara for sanctuary. This lucrative business profits local criminal gangs, which have become almost natural allies of AQIM in the region.

The US and other Western countries have warned that unless the governments of the region join forces, al-Qaeda could turn the Sahara desert into a safe haven and use it as a base for launching large-scale attacks. Fearing these groups could become too powerful in vast desert zones governments have little sway over, Western nations led by France and the United States have stepped up involvement in the region and are seeking to forge better coordination.
U.S. government representatives met French, British, and European Union officials on
September 10, 2010 in Paris to review efforts to address the security threat posed by terrorism in Africa`s Sahel and Maghreb regions. [21]

The terrorist threat in the Sahel has become one of France’s biggest foreign policy preoccupations in the past year: President Sarkozy has spoken of the country being “at war” in the region. President Sarkozy has made clear that France's determination to fight terrorism remains intact.
The French declaration of war against Al Qaeda and the raids in Mali (July 2010) and Niger (January 2011), marked a shift in strategy for France, which is usually discreet about its military co-operation with its regional allies - Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria.

The last, although failed raids in Mali and Niger, can be considered as first steps in a new strategy, at list of France, with direct involvement in military operations against the AQIM infrastructure in the region.

The January 2011 AQIM kidnapping would represent a significant widening of its area of operation. Previous kidnappings in Niger have occurred in the country’s northern desert, hundreds of kilometers from Niamey, and the capital had been considered relatively safe for westerners.

Unlike Britain and Spain, France has never been attacked successfully by al-Qaeda at home. Osama ben Laden 's last message may reflect Al Qaeda's and in particular AQIM's strategy calculating that an attack on French soil will have far greater political impact on France and the West than kidnapping and killing French citizens in remote areas in Afghanistan or in African countries.


1. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatens France, MEMRI, a tape aired by Al Jazeera T.V, January 21, 2011.

2. Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden threatens France, MEMRI, a tape aired by Al Jazeera T.V, January 21, 2011.

3. Ben Laden demands France withdraw from Afghanistan, Fox News, January 21, 2011.

4. Ben Laden vows to kill hostages if France stays, France to stay Afghanistan despite Ben Laden's threat, Al Arabia News Channel, January 21, 2011.

5. France declares war against Al Qaeda ,CNSNEWS.COM ,July 27, 2010.

6. Ben Laden vows to kill hostages if France stays, France to stay Afghanistan despite Ben Laden's threat, Al Arabia News Channel, January 21, 2011.

7. Taliban militants threaten to kill kidnapped journalists CNN World, April 12, 2010.

8. Ben Laden vows to kill hostages if France stays, France to stay Afghanistan despite Ben Laden's threat, Al Arabia News Channel, January 21, 2011.

9. 2 French agents kidnapped in Somalia, CBS News, July 14, 2009.

10. French agents kidnapped in Somalia, The Telegraph, July 14, 2009.

11. Somalia: kidnapped French agent escapes, The Huffington Post, August 26, 2009.

12. Vivienne Walt, Kidnappings escalate France's desert war on Al Qaeda, Time, September 22, 2010.

13. Rukmini Callimchi, Niger kidnappings show Al Qaeda group getting bolder ,The Christian Science Monitor, ,September 23, 2010.

14. Ibid.

15. Vivienne Walt, Kidnappings escalate France's desert war on Al Qaeda, Time, September 22, 2010.

16. Two French hostages in Niger killed in rescue, BBC News, January 8, 2011.

17. Ruadhan Mac Cormaic, French hostages killed in Niger after abduction, The Irish Times, January 10, 2011.

18. Al Qaeda claims responsibility for Niger kidnappings, BBC News, January 13, 2011.

19. Angela Donald, TV report: Al Qaeda arm claims responsibility for taking 2 Frenchmen hostages in Niger, Los Angeles Times ,January 13, 2011.

20. Two French hostages in Niger killed in rescue, BBC News, January 8, 2011.

21. U.S Franco – EU discuss Sahel security issues, Wikileaks, the press project.