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France comes under fire for its anti-terrorism policy in West Africa

Al Qaeda has claimed responsibility for the kidnapping of two Frenchmen who died last Saturday in a failed rescue attempt. In France meanwhile Sarkozy's policy in West Africa is coming under increased criticism.

Nicolas Sarkozywith French troops

France insists that terrorism must be met with force

Al Qaeda on Thursday confirmed it was behind the abduction of the two Frenchmen who died during a failed rescue attempt by the French military over the weekend. Special forces had on Saturday tried to rescue them from the hands of their – then still unknown – kidnappers.

Yet as President Nicolas Sarkozy's government is warning all tourists not to visit Niger, Mauritania or Mali, French policy in West Africa is coming under increasing criticism from within France.

Members of the French tourist industry go as far as saying that in fact it's French armed intervention against al Qaeda terrorists in the region that is to blame for French citizens being in grave danger right across West Africa.

Losing the battle for hearts and minds

Sahara desert in Niger

Visiting the Sahara in Niger is getting increasingly dangerous

"The operations of al Qaeda in the Maghreb are going to change into a general attack against the French, not only in the desert regions but as far south as Burkina Faso and Senegal," warned Maurice Freund, head of travel company Point Afrique.

Three years ago his company was taking some 72,000 French tourists to the region. Now, he is thinking about giving up his business – and he blames the French government for aggravating the situation.

"Armed intervention and the presence of the French army in the region is seen by local people as an act of aggression, as an attack against their own dignity. So we are going to be picked off like rabbits in Ouagadougou, in Bamako, maybe even in Dakar," he said.

The failed rescue attempt on Saturday was just the latest in a string of French military engagements against al Qaeda in the Maghreb in support of local authorities there.

The French army mobilized reconnaissance aircrafts, helicopters and special forces commandos stationed to free the aid worker and the friend visiting him and Paris insists that there's no alternative to its approach.

Finding the right approach

"What is the right thing to do when you're confronted with terrorism?" Foreign Ministry spokesman Bernard Valero asked.

Map of Niger

The hostages died in a rescue attempt near the border to Mali

"You have to resist! You have to stand up to them! When our fellow citizens are kidnapped, it's not possible to do nothing! Shaking hands and negotiating with terrorists is unacceptable and ineffective from a security perspective. There has been no government mistake."

Meanwhile, initial conclusions from the autopsies carried out on the two hostages' bodies have shed doubt on the French government's claim that both were executed by Al Qaida at the start of the French military intervention.

Though one of the men was killed by a bullet shot at close range to the head, the other may have died from burns sustained when the vehicle he was being driven in was hit by a French missile.

Author: John Laurenson in Paris, Andreas Illmer (Reuters, AFP)
Editor: Rob Turner

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