January 25, 2013
France Deploys Special Forces as Terrorism Fears Grow
France has sent Special Forces to guard mines in Niger which supply most of the uranium for the French nuclear power industry. Back home, the government has increased the terror alert to its second-highest level, and has reinforced security at key government and tourist sites. There are fears of retaliation at home and abroad following France's intervention in Mali.
A trickle of visitors is braving the icy Paris winter to ascend the 320 meters of the Eiffel Tower. On the ground and on the levels above, armed troops patrol day and night.
France has deployed more than 700 soldiers across the capital as fears grow over the potential for reprisals following the military intervention in Mali.
Calls for retaliation
An array of Islamic jihadi websites are calling for attacks on France, says Jean-Charles Brisard, a French terrorism expert and former chief investigator for the 9/11 families.
“They are calling for retaliations in Africa, because they can carry them out in Africa - their own retaliation by these groups - but for France they’re calling for the emergence of new ‘Mohammed Merahs’ - that means they essentially are relying on home-grown terrorism," said Brisard.
That has a deep resonance in France, just 10 months after three soldiers and four Jewish citizens were killed in a series of attacks in the southern city of Toulouse. The gunman, French-born Mohammed Merah, said he was partly motivated by the presence of French soldiers in Afghanistan.
Investigations suggested he was not a ‘lone wolf’ terrorist. Terror expert Jean-Charles Brisard says several active networks have direct links to the Sahel.
“About 30 terrorism cells here in France, supporting financially or materially, or recruiting for Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb," he said. "That means we know they have relays - they had in the past but we know they still have relays here in France, in the radical Islamic community. Those individuals are under surveillance.”
Increasing security measures
Security is also being stepped up on metro and rail services in Paris. Terror attacks in London in 2005 and Madrid in 2004 targeted the cities’ public transport systems.
Most residents appear reassured that the authorities will keep them safe.
“I’m not worried, I think that France is ready to resist by itself," said one.
“You must be careful of course, but I think what the French military is doing in Mali is good for humanity, good for the world," said another.
With tight security at home, experts say the most vulnerable targets are French and Western interests in Africa.
Guarding natural resources
The attack by Islamic militants on the Ain Amenas gas plant in Algeria last week resulted in the deaths of at least 37 foreign workers.
In addition to the 2500 troops being sent to Mali, France has deployed Special Forces to protect uranium mines in Niger. Damien Helly is a visiting professor at the College of Europe.
“[A large amount] of France’s electricity is dependent on uranium from the Sahel," said Helly. "And subsequently, a large part of European growth is dependent on the health of the French economy. So there is a clear link if you want between French and European interests in this region. All this combined together made the case for an intervention.”
Despite the government warning of an increased risk of terrorism, recent polls show 65 percent of French people back the military intervention in Mali. For most Parisians - and tourists - it appears it is business as usual.
* An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that 20 percent of France's electricity is dependent on uranium from the Sahel. VOA regrets the error.