Wednesday

22nd Feb 2017

Interview

Mali mission could up risk of anti-EU terrorism

  • French soldier in Mali. The EU mission is due in late February (Photo: defense.gouv.fr)

A top counter-terrorism official has said the EU military training mission in Mali will increase the risk of revenge attacks in Europe.

Asked by EUobserver on Tuesday (22 January) if France's intervention in Mali could expose French citizens to greater danger, Gilles de Kerchove, the EU counter-terrorism co-ordinator, said: "We do indeed have concerns ... But I would not just link this to the French. As we become more engaged with the EUTM [EU training mission], EU visibility will increase. France is leading the process. But soon we'll have troops from other countries on the ground and greater visibility and, possibly, retaliation elsewhere."

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

  • De Kerchove: 'As we become more engaged with the EUTM, EU visibility will increase' (Photo: Council of the European Union)

EU countries are to send about 500 soldiers to Mali in February, with the EUTM's French commander, Francois Lecointre, visiting Bamako this week to make plans.

De Kerchove is currently drafting a Mali terrorism threat assessment for a meeting of EU interior ministers on 7 March.

"We've started looking at the impact in Bamako and in the direct neighbourhood - Niger, Mauritania, Senegal. We have to look at ways to be better prepared, including on the internal security of the EU," he noted.

"I don't exclude that at some point in the future they [jihadist groups in Mali] may want to find a place in Europe where some retaliation may happen," he added.

He said Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is the "most dangerous" of the groups.

It has no track record of operations in the EU and De Kerchove indicated that a "sophisticated attack, such as 9/11" is unlikely.

But he warned the Mali conflict could "inspire" loner radicals inside the Union or jihadists in other regions, such as Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, to take action.

He noted that some EU residents have already gone to Mali to fight alongside AQIM and that they will pose a danger if they return to Europe.

In terms of outsourcing operations, he added that AQIM has "personal links" with Islamic radical groups Boko Haram in Nigeria and Al-Shabaab in Somalia.

But he said the recent Algeria hostage crisis, in which several EU citizens died, was not a revenge attack.

"It was something which was prepared much earlier [than the French intervention]," he explained.

"It was an attempt by Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who was kicked out of AQIM because he was too heavily involved in drug smuggling and cigarette smuggling, to get back in the game and to show that he's a big player. He had just 100 or so fighters, but he was ready to sacrifice nearly 40 of them to get back in the power game between himself and the leaders of AQIM, Mujao and Ansar Dine," he noted, referring to other militant groups in the conflict.

Zooming in on the fighters, De Kerchove said AQIM, Mujao and parts of Ansar Eddine support a "global jihad" and the creation of an Islamic caliphate in west Africa.

AQIM and Mujao originated in Algeria and are led by Algerians, but have "recruited people from all over the region."

They got "dozens of millions of euros" from ransom payments for EU hostages over the past 10 years and they have looted weapons from Libya.

AQIM does not smuggle drugs because it considers it un-Islamic, but it charges protection money from convoys of drugs traffickers. For its part, Mujao is "less pure" and split from AQIM in order to get into the drugs trade.

Ansar Dine originated among Touareg tribes who want to create an independent state in north Mali.

It is also an Islamic group. Some of its chiefs are willing to make peace with Bamako in return for autonomy, but it contains a "core group of real jihadists." Meanwhile, a former Ansar Dine commander has created his own extremist splinter organisation - Ansar el Charia - with AQIM-type beliefs.

De Kerchove, a Belgian jurist, has been advising EU countries on counter-terrorism strategy for five years.

Some of his information comes from IntCen, the member states' intelligence-sharing office in the EU External Action Service.

"I ask IntCen: 'What do we know about the supply of these terrorist groups [in Mali]? Where do the arms, the food, the gasoline, the spare parts come from?'," he noted.

He attends meetings of the Counter-Terrorism Group, an informal body of the heads of EU countries' intelligence services, which convenes at least twice a year.

He also meets with security chiefs in north African and Middle East capitals.

But he indicated that some of his best sources are "friends" in the administrations of big EU countries and in the US.

"I get a lot of information from my American friends. I know John Brennan [President Barack Obama's nominee for CIA chief] and the head of the NCTC [the US' National Counter-Terrorism Centre, Matthew Olsen]. I go to the US regularly," he told this website.

Europeans taken hostage over Mali war

EU foreign ministers are holding a crisis meeting on Mali, after one British citizen was killed and 41 internationals taken hostage at a gas plant in Algeria in retaliation against France.

Interview

Mali miracle: EU states in agreement

France did not consult anybody before dropping bombs in Mali, the UN's special envoy to Sahel, Romano Prodi, has said. But its level of UN and EU support is "unique."

Interview

The Armenia-Azerbaijan war: A refugee's story

The lynching of a woman in the Soviet Union in 1988 gives insight into why reconciliation remains so hard in the 30-year long war on Europe's eastern fringe.

News in Brief

  1. Romanian parliament buries controversial corruption decree
  2. Dozens drown off Libyan coast
  3. EU ministers approve anti-tax avoidance directive
  4. Poland rejects EU criticism of court changes
  5. German nationalist leader met with Putin allies in Moscow
  6. German housing market overheated, says Bundesbank
  7. France invites three EU leaders for Versailles summit in March
  8. Greece agrees on new bailout reforms

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Malta EU 2017Economic Governance: Agreement Reached on Structural Reform Support Programme for Member States
  2. Socialists & DemocratsWomen Have to Work Ten Years Longer to Match Lifetime Earnings of Men
  3. Counter BalanceTrans-Adriatic Pipeline Is a Major Risk for Banks, Warns New Analysis
  4. Martens CentreEU and US Migration Policies Compared: Join the Debate on February 28th
  5. Swedish EnterprisesTechnology and Data Flows - Shaping the Society of Tomorrow
  6. UNICEFNearly 1.4 Million Children at Risk of Death as Famine Looms Across Africa and Yemen
  7. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Fees: Council Reaches Agreement on Wholesale Caps
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Innovation House Opens in New York to Help Startups Access US Market
  9. Centre Maurits CoppietersMinorities and Migrations
  10. Salzburg Global SeminarThe Child in the City: Health, Parks and Play
  11. UNICEFNumber of Ukrainian Children Needing Aid Nearly Doubles to 1 Million Over the Past Year
  12. Centre Maurits CoppietersThe Situation of Refugee Women in Europe

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Salzburg Global SeminarToward a Shared Culture of Health: Charting the Patient-Clinician Relationship
  2. European Free AllianceAustria Should Preserve & Promote Bilingual and Multinational Carinthia
  3. Martens CentreShow Your Love for Democracy! Take Part in Our Contest: "If It's Broken, Let's Fix It"
  4. CISPECloud Computing Leaders Establish Data Protection Standards to Protect Customer Data
  5. Malta EU 2017Landmark Deal Reached With European Parliament on Portability of Online Content
  6. Belgrade Security ForumBSF 2017: Building a Common Future in the Age of Uncertainty
  7. CESIEU Not to Revise the Working Time Directive
  8. International Partnership for Human RightsAzerbaijan: 76 NGOs Urge the EU to Use President's Visit to Insist on Human Rights Reforms
  9. UNICEFDeadliest Winter for Migrant Children Crossing the Central Mediterranean
  10. World VisionGaza Staff Member Pleads Not Guilty
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region First to Consider Complete Ban on Microplastics in Cosmetics
  12. Dialogue PlatformWhy the West 'Failed to Understand' Turkey