Al-Qaeda in the Sahel is currently developing an “expansion project” towards the Gulf of Guinea, in particular Côte d’Ivoire and Benin, Bernard Emié, head of French foreign intelligence, assured Monday in a rare public intervention.
Alongside the Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly, the head of the General Directorate for External Security (DGSE) showed images of a meeting, held in February 2020, bringing together in central Mali the highest local officials of the jihadist center.
“The object of this meeting (well meeting) was the preparation of large-scale operations on military bases,” said Bernard Emié without providing details.
“This is where the leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel designed their expansion project towards the countries of the Gulf of Guinea,” he added. “These countries are now targets too and to loosen the stranglehold in which they are caught and to spread southwards, the terrorists are already financing men who are spreading in Côte d’Ivoire or Benin”.
“Fighters have also been sent to the borders of Nigeria, Niger and Chad”, according to Mr. Emié.
The head of the DGSE, the Minister as well as the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, General François Lecointre, met in the morning at the Orléans-Bricy air base during an “Executive Committee” devoted to counterterrorism issues.
According to the DGSE, were present at the February 2020 meeting Abdelmalek Droukdel, historic leader of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (Aqmi), Iyad Ag Ghaly, head of the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (GSIM, Jnim en Arab) and one of his loyal assistants, Amadou Koufa, head of the katiba (combatant unit) Macina. Droukdel has since been killed in June by French forces in northern Mali.
“Iyad Ag Ghaly embodies the strategy of Al-Qaeda in the Sahel. He is not a man who thinks about terrorism, he is a man who practices it on a daily basis. (…) He does not hesitate to take up arms himself, ”insisted Bernard Emié.
These jihadist leaders “are the direct heirs of Osama Bin Laden, they are pursuing his political project, with the assumed objective of committing attacks in the West and in Europe in particular”, he added.
“The situation in East Africa, from the Shebabs of Somalia to recent Islamic State infiltrations in Mozambique, is of great concern to us as well.”
The Sahel is plagued by a myriad of jihadist groups, linked either to Al-Qaeda or to the Islamic State (IS) group, and established in areas largely neglected by the central powers.
“Wars of influence”
France has deployed 5,100 troops in this region since the launch of Operation Barkhane in 2014. President Emmanuel Macron confirmed in January that Paris was preparing to “adjust its effort” there, thanks to the “results obtained” in 2020 and to “The greater intervention of our European partners”.
An adjustment that involves a rise in the power of France’s allies, Ms. Parly confirmed on Monday.
“For a year and a half, Europeans have fully realized the issues linked to the expansion of terrorists in Africa and the threat of seeing a rear base set up in the Sahel, as we have known in the Levant”, she declared in front of an audience of journalists and local elected officials.
“Cornered, the enemy changes its methods, its means of action and the places where it acts”, she declared, also pointing to the “immaterial battlefields” and the “wars of influence and information “.
The details of the readjustment of Barkhane will be discussed by France and its allies of the G5 Sahel (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad) during a summit scheduled for N’Djamena on February 15 and 16.