France orders tighter security in wake of Mali operation
President François Hollande has ordered security in France to be tightened following the launch of French military operations in Mali to combat Islamist rebels. A French special forces helicopter pilot was killed in the fighting on Saturday.
- Hundreds of French troops join Mali's fight against Islamist insurgents
- France tightens domestic security in wake of Mali intervention
- French helicopter pilot killed during operation to destroy Islamist command centre
- Mali's army retakes control of the strategic central city of Konna
- Militant group warns France that it will "pay the price" for its actions
- Interim President Dioncounda Traoré to meet Hollande for talks next week in Paris
President François Hollande on Saturday ordered security to be tightened in France, including increased protections at public buildings and on transportation networks, following the launch of French military operations in Mali to combat Islamist rebels.
Mali’s militants warned France on Friday that it would seek revenge for its military involvement in the country.
“France will pay the price for this action,” a spokesman for the Islamist militants told FRANCE 24. “We are not weak. We have crushed France in Afghanistan. (...) We don’t have aircraft or missiles but we have our religious beliefs, which will guide us to victory, God willing.”
Hollande said on Saturday that France's mission in Mali – dubbed "Operation Serval" after an African wild cat – was to prepare the ground for a subsequent intervention led by West African regional bloc ECOWAS to oust the Islamists.
The Malian army was attacking the "last pockets of resistance" from Islamist insurgents in Konna after recapturing the town the day before with the backing of French air power, military sources said.
Konna, some 700 kilometres (400 miles) from the capital Bamako, fell on Thursday into the hands of insurgents who control the north of the vast West African country.
At least 100 rebels have so far been killed in the fighting, a Malian military spokesman said on Saturday.
A French helicopter pilot died of wounds sustained in an overnight operation that destroyed a rebel command centre.
Human Rights Watch said that at least 10 civilians had also been killed.
France's Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France was compelled to act quickly to stop the Islamist offensive, which he said could allow “a terrorist state at the doorstep of France and Europe”.
Hollande has said that France would not stand by to watch the rebels push southward. Paris has repeatedly warned that the Islamists’ seizure of the country’s north in April gave them a base to attack neighbouring African countries and Europe.
“We are faced with blatant aggression that is threatening Mali’s very existence. France cannot accept this,” Hollande, who recently pledged Paris would not meddle in African affairs, said in a New Year speech to diplomats and journalists on Friday.
“There’s absolutely no other major power who could act in the region on such short notice,” said Douglas Yates, a political science professor and Africa analyst at the American University of Paris. “France has prepositioned troops in this region; that has enabled France to act decisively – it stopped the advance.”
But Yates said the hundreds of French troops involved in the operation are not sufficient to retake the Islamist-held north. “This is a holding operation,” he said.
State of emergency
More than two decades of peaceful elections had earned Mali a reputation as a bulwark of democracy in a part of Africa better known for turmoil - an image that unravelled in a matter of weeks after a military coup last March that paved the way for the Islamist rebellion.
Mali is Africa’s third-largest gold producer and a major cotton grower, and home to the fabled northern desert city of Timbuktu – an ancient trading hub and UNESCO World Heritage site that hosted annual music festivals before the rebellion.
Interim President Dioncounda Traoré, under pressure for bolder action from Mali’s military, declared a state of emergency on Friday. Traoré will fly to Paris for talks with Hollande on Wednesday.
The chief of operations for Mali’s Defence Ministry said Nigeria and Senegal were among the other countries providing military support on the ground. Fabius said those countries had not taken part in the French operation.
The French Foreign Ministry stepped up its security alert on Mali and parts of neighbouring Mauritania and Niger on Friday, extending its red alert – the highest level – to include Bamako. France has eight nationals in Islamist hands in the Sahara after a string of kidnappings.
The families of the hostages said they feared for their loved ones. Jean-Pierre Verdon, father of a hostage, told FRANCE 24: “We are petrified. Actions are being taken very fast and the situation is extremely intense. We are sitting in front of the TV all the time.”
(FRANCE 24 with wires)