French President Francois Hollande placed the country on high domestic terror alert Saturday, Jan. 12. lest al Qaeda retaliate for French operations against two of its Africa wings: a failed mission to rescue a French hostage from the Somali Shabaab rebels and air and commando aid to the Mali government’s drive against advancing Islamists. He made the announcement after a special war cabinet session in Paris.
debkafile reported earlier Saturday.
French special forces failed early Saturday, Jan. 12, to rescue a hostage from the hands of the Qaeda-linked Somali Shabaab, while a second French air and commando force continued operations in support of the Mali government‘s drive to arrest an Islamist advance.
In Paris, Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian denied a connection between the two French counter-terror operations taking place in the last 48 hours in East and West Africa – both against wings of al Qaeda. He reported a French soldier was killed in Somalia, another was missing and the fate of the hostage held for three years by Shabaab was unknown. Seventeen Islamist fighters were reported killed. In Mali, a French pilot was killed when his helicopter was shot down near the key northern city of Konna.
Saturday, President Francois Hollande called his war cabinet into an unusual emergency session after the first direct French interventions in the fight against Islamist terrorism went awry and confronted him with his first military crisis.
By plunging into two fronts, Mali and Somalia, France offered two terrorist wings – the Somali Shabaab, which comes under Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), and the Malian Ansar Dine, which is part of Al Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM), to issue a joint ultimatum to Paris: Stop both missions immediately or else eight French hostages will be executed one by one. Among them, in Mali, are four nuclear engineers and technicians.
The Somali group kidnapped Denis Allex, an agent of France's DGSE intelligence service, in Mogadishu four years ago. His rescue was the object of the Somali operation Saturday. French helicopters executed several attacks on the hostage’s suspected place of captivity in Bula Marer south of the capital. They were forced to retreat with losses under heavy anti-aircraft fire.
Saturday afternoon, French officials said the operation had failed. They had initially reported the hostage killed in the operation, then said his fate was unknown, after Shabaab spokesmen said Alex was not in the area of the French raid and was unharmed. The Islamists also claimed to have captured the missing commando from the French attack after finding him injured.
As for the French pilot in Mali, the French defense minister said only that he was fatally wounded in a helicopter raid Friday in support of Malian forces which were targeting a terrorist group advancing on the town of Mopti near the key northern city of Konna, 600 kilometers south of the capital, Bamako. He did not say whether the helicopter was shot down by ground fire. On both fronts, the French forces have encountered heavy anti-air fire from the ground.
A Malian defense ministry spokesman said that government forces had retaken Konna, with the help of French military forces, although he did not say whether they were in full control of the key city or that the Islamist fighters had been driven out.
Hollande said France had intervened in Mali because the wider Sahel region of West Africa was becoming an Afghanistan-like base for Islamist terrorists, and a terrorist state rising in Bamako would threaten all of Africa and bring Europe and France within range.
Le Drian said that France had been in contact with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta as well as African and fellow European governments. An administration spokesman in Washington said the US was considering extending intelligence and logistic aid to the French forces fighting al Qaeda in Mali.
debkafile’s military sources report that the crises in Mali and Somalia caught President Hollande in the middle of another crisis involving terrorists – not this time al Qaeda but the separatist Kurdish PKK (Kurdish Workers Party) with which Turkey is at war.
Thursday, three Kurdish women were found dead of shots to the head at the Kurdish Information Center in Paris. One of the victims was identified as Sakine Cansiz, a founding member of the PKK organization. French Interior Minister Manuel Vallis said they had obviously been “executed.”
The president’s comment that one of the victims was known to him infuriated the Turkish government. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called on Hollande to explain why he had met Kurdish militants with links to the PKK, which is viewed as a terrorist group by Turkey, the EU and the United States.
Erdogan also said that Turkey expected the French government to find those responsible for slaying the three Kurdish women in Paris. This incident occurred as Turkish intelligence officials were conducting talks with the PKK's jailed leader Abdullah Ocalan, in a bid to disarm the PKK and end a conflict which has cost thousands of lives in nearly two decades.