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President Hollande said the French contingent of 650 troops in Central African Republic will be doubled within days, but that the intervention would differ from the Malian one, as in CAR, France will serve as a "gendarme." Foreign Minister Fabius said the CAR operation was to help stem mounting sectarian violence, and Defense Minister Le Drian said it could wind down in six months.
To support an African peacekeeping force, France will triple the amount of soldiers it has in CAR to over 1,000 for six months. France's ambassador to the UN predicted that the intervention will probably be easier than the one in Mali. France also has a military presence in Mali, Côte d'Ivoire, Chad, and Gabon.
A former member of France's DGSE spy agency dismissed the claim made by a British anti-racism group in a recent report that French intelligence considered killing hate preacher Abu Hamza in England in the late 1990s. Foreign Minister Fabius said France may begin lifting Iran sanctions in December. France may increase increase its troop presence in the Central African Republic.
Intelligence officers arrested four men in the Parisian suburb of Vitry-sur-Seine who are suspected of running a recruiting network for jihadists in Syria. Two of the men had fought with the Al Nusrah Front. Interior Minister Valls said in September that over 100 French people have gone to join the Syrian rebels, but a source now says that about 440 people from France have gone to Syria to fight and about half are currently in Syria. The source also said about 10 were killed in Syria and some 50 to 60 have returned to France.
Officials are denying that a ransom was paid for the recent release of four French hostages held captive for three years by al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; reports allege that a ransom of $26 million was paid. A negotiator from Niger, former Tuareg rebel Mohamed Akotey, is said to have been instrumental in securing their release. President Hollande said he has not forgotten about seven more French nationals still being held hostage; there are thought to be four in Syria, two in Mali or Niger, and one in Nigeria.
President Hollande said he ordered the recent large-scale joint operation in Mali to help stabilize the country for elections in late November, and warned of the influence of Islamist terrorists evidenced by recent suicide attacks against Chadian peacekeeping troops. Bernard Squarcini, the former head of French intelligence said he was "astonished" that the prime minister claimed to be "deeply shocked" by reports that the US NSA recorded millions of French phone calls.
"The French intelligence services know full well that all countries, whether or not they are allies in the fight against terrorism, spy on each other all the time," Squarcini said.
Prime Minister Ayrault disclosed that two French journalists, Pierre Torrès and Nicolas Hénin, are being held hostage in Syria since disappearing in Aleppo on June 22. Two other French journalists, Didier Francois and Edouard Elias, disappeared on June 6 in Aleppo, a city under the control of al Qaeda forces.
Naamen Meziche, a French national of Algerian origin suspected of links to al Qaeda plots against the US and Europe, was arrested on arrival in France after being extradited from Pakistan. Meziche had been arrested in Pakistan in May 2012 with three other French jihadists, who were extradited to France in April.
Intelligence agents arrested a 21-year-old woman at her apartment in the Belleville district of Paris on suspicion of links to al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. She is said to be a reader of AQAP's magazine Inspire. The arrest is the first stemming from an investigation that began in March into a suspected terrorist plot. Yesterday eight members of a militant Islamist group received sentences ranging from eight years to 18 months for recruiting French fighters for al Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan and plotting terror attacks. One of the suspects, who remains at large, was sentenced in absentia.
President Hollande said France supports arming the Syrian rebels in a controlled manner so they do not end up in the hands of Islamists. A French Muslim convert was arrested in the Calvados region on terror charges for serving as administrator of the radical Islamist website Ansar al Haqq and as a translator of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's magazine Inspire. Interior Minister Valls warned that more than 130 French jihadists are now fighting in Syria, of a total of about 300 who are either currently fighting or known to be planning to go to Syria; a number of them are Muslim converts. A convert from Toulouse was killed in Syria while fighting regime forces in August.
President Hollande and the foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and the United Arab Emirates agreed on the need for more international support for the Syrian opposition and maintaining pressure on the Assad regime to ensure that it commits to negotiations on the Syrian crisis and does not again use chemical weapons. The Foreign Ministry called for a binding UN Security Council resolution to enforce Syria's compliance with the chemical weapons ban, and submitted a draft resolution to the UN.
A government spokesman said France remains determined to punish the chemical weapons use of the Assad regime in Syria if diplomatic measures fail, and that a military strike is still an option. Authorities are investigating four French men who were arrested last week and accused of robbing a fast food restaurant in Paris to finance their travel to Syria to fight with extremists.
President Hollande called yesterday for a "large coalition" including the US, Europe, and Arab states to respond to the alleged use of chemical weapons by the Assad regime in Syria. Today the head of the French opposition said his party could not support a military intervention in Syria without the backing of a UN resolution. The French president is constitutionally authorized to act on Syria without Parliament's approval.
Interior Minister Valls said that France "cannot go it alone" on Syria and would wait for the US Congress' decision. The government released an intelligence assessment blaming the Assad regime for the Aug. 21 attack in Damascus and describing the regime's extensive chemical weapons arsenal. The leaked French intelligence report claims that the Assad regime has over 1,000 tons of such agents, including the extremely lethal nerve toxin VX.
President Hollande said he supports "firm" punitive action against the Assad regime in Syria over the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack, and that France's position had not changed despite the recent British vote against an intervention. He said the attack could come by Aug. 4, when the French parliament debates the issue. He said he is not in favor of an intervention to topple the regime but rather to deal it a body blow for its use of chemical weapons. France has sent one of its latest warships to waters off Syria. China told France that determining who used the chemical weapons in Syria must be a precondition to any action.
Foreign Minister Fabius said that if allegations are true that regime forces in Syria used chemical weapons in a recent attack in Damascus, the international community would have to react "with force" in Syria, but also said there was "no question of sending troops on the ground." He added that there were "possibilities for responding."
Interior Minister Valls played down reports of a recent al Qaeda threat to European railways, saying French intelligence has found no evidence to support the alleged threat, but added that France is vigilant. Even though intelligence indicated no specific threat to France, but perhaps a general threat in northern Europe, France stepped up policing on its rail lines in the wake of the threat. French intelligence estimates that some 220 Frenchmen have gone to Syria for jihad; a "disproportionate number" are Muslim converts.
Authorities arrested a Tunisian Islamist from a suburb of Paris yesterday and deported him for threatening two journalists. He had allegedly shown willingness to join the al Qaeda-linked Al Nusrah Front in Syria. On June 28, authorities arrested four suspected radical Islamists, including one from Benin, during a raid in Paris, and put them under investigation.
President Holland said France has been "informed directly and indirectly of threats concerning our installations overseas and even our nationals, threats coming from al-Qaida." The French embassy in Yemen will close for several days. INTERPOL issued a global security alert noting prison escapes last month in nine countries, including Iraq, Libya, and Pakistan, alleging al Qaeda involvement in several of the jailbreaks. France and Belgium proposed the creation of a passenger name record system for tracking European citizens and preventing them from going to fight in Syria or other countries.
Foreign Minister Fabius called for the release of Egyptian political prisoners, including former president Morsi. A well-known French-Tunisian jihadist, Boubakeur Hakim, is being sought as the number one suspect in the assassinations two leading Tunisian politicians.