France vows to strengthen fight against militants
France's government vowed Tuesday to step up the fight against Al-Qaeda in northern Africa after militants killed a French hostage in the Sahel desert region.
"The fight against terrorism continues and it is going to strengthen, particularly against AQMI," Prime Minister Francois Fillon said on Europe 1 radio, using the acronym for Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
The group, a northern Africa-based affiliate of Osama Bin Laden's Al-Qaeda network, claimed the killing of Michel Germaneau, a 78-year-old French aid worker who was kidnapped in Niger.
"France does not practice vengeance," Fillon said.
"However we do have agreements with the governments in the region and in particular with the Mauritanian government and with the Malian government to hunt these terrorists and bring them to justice."
AQIM declared it had killed Germaneau as revenge after French and Mauritanian soldiers stormed one of the group's camps in Mali and killed six militants.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy vowed on Monday that Germaneau's killing "will not go unpunished." He said the government had authenticated the group's claim to have killed Germaneau although his body has not been recovered.
Sarkozy and Fillon did not say what France planned to do in response, but experts and military officers told AFP to expect an increased use of spies and special forces to target militant groups in the Sahel.
In Mali, a local elected official told AFP that Germaneau had been beheaded after the raid, in the presence of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, the leader of an AQIM cell that has been blamed for killing a Briton, Edwin Dyer, in 2009.
Fillon said Germaneau's body had not been recovered and pointed out that Dyer's had never been found either.
He said France was on high alert against terrorist attacks. "We foil several attacks every year in France and in neighbouring countries and we are not going to slacken our efforts."
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner embarked on a tour of countries in the region on Monday to discuss security with leaders and diplomats there.
He met on Monday night with Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz and was due to meet President Amadou Toumani Toure of Mali in Bamako on Tuesday, before heading to Niger.
France is the former colonial ruler of most of the Sahel, a band of scrub and desert along the south of the Sahara running through Mauritania, Mali, Niger and southern Algeria, and retains much influence with regional leaders.
© 2010 AFP