French anti-terror judge says ‘no choice’ but war in Mali
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A leading French judge who specialises in anti-terror investigations says France has no choice but to take the fight to Islamists in Mali – or risk allowing the region to become a training ground for terrorists wanting to attack France itself.
France’s top anti-terrorist investigating judge has warned that an Islamist-controlled northern Mali is a dangerous potential training ground for jihadists wanting to launch attacks against France - and that they "must be stopped".
Marc Trévidic, 47, told left-leaning daily Libération on Tuesday that while taking the fight to al Qaeda-linked Malian extremists made France an “ever more obvious target” for terror attacks, “we don’t have any choice but to go to war”.
France launched Operation Serval on Friday against the Islamists now controlling northern Mali; its main aim to stop the rebels moving south towards the capital Bamako.
As Libération published excerpts from his book “Terrorists: the seven pillars of folly”, Trévidic explained that Mali, a former French colony, was the most easily accessible and attractive destination for would-be terrorists with their eyes on French targets.
“I’m not a warmonger, but if 2,000 or 3,000 jihadists were able to install themselves in Bamako there would be very little we could do to be able to dislodge them," he said.
“Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) wants to paint France as aggressors – but the group have nevertheless been central to a number of kidnappings of French citizens and is constantly making threats against France. They have to be stopped.”
AQIM is one of the more significant Islamist groups operating in Mali.
The Islamists have since established strict Islamic Sharia law in northern Mali, a vast desert region the size of France, a land of ancient caravan routes that is notorious for drugs and arms smuggling as well as kidnappings and ransom.
AQIM leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, who is Algerian, has been threatening attacks on French soil for the last three years, something it has been unable to do “because of a lack of organisation,” according to Trévidic. “We must absolutely not allow these groups to become powerful, established and structured.”
Comparing the threat to al Qaeda’s alliance with Afghanistan’s Taliban, he added: “Once they have solid control over their region, that’s when they can start exporting terror.
“The Taliban took power in Afghanistan in 1998 and allied themselves with al Qaeda, which was then able to launch attacks against embassies.
“Al Qaeda was then allowed to form alliances with local groups up until the 9/11 attacks. We must not make the same mistake with AQIM.”
Trévidic is well known in France for leading the investigations into the 1996 killing of seven French monks at the Tibhirine monastery in Algeria, as well as the 2002 murder of 14 people, including 11 French Naval engineers, in Karachi, Pakistan.
Since France’s operation in Mali began last Friday, there has been a high visibility of armed French soldiers at train stations and national monuments.
Interior Minister Manuel Valls said France was well aware of the dangers of terror attacks, but believed the threat posed by the advance of the militant Islamist fighters into southern Mali was far greater.
On Monday, the rebels from the Sahel desert region that includes Mali said France had “opened the gates of hell” and threatened retribution.