France's Juppe pledges support against Nigerian extremists
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe vowed Saturday to help Nigeria in its fight against extremism as the country faces an intensifying Islamist insurgency, mainly in the north where he also visited.
The radical Islamist group Boko Haram has claimed credit for a recent wave of gun and bomb attacks, including one last week in Nigeria's northeast that left some 150 people dead, one of the deadliest operations attributed to the group.
"We shall fight against this phenomenon. We are ready to share any information. We are ready to coordinate our intelligence services. We are ready also to give our help in training cooperation," Juppe told reporters after talks with his Nigerian counterpart Olugbenga Ashiru in the capital Abuja.
There has been speculation over whether Boko Haram -- which also said it carried out an August suicide attack at the UN headquarters that killed 24 -- has developed closer ties with Al-Qaeda's north Africa branch.
"France is directly concerned and involved in the question of terrorism. We received, often, threats against our interests in the region or in France. So we are in complete solidarity with the countries of the region around the Sahel," Juppe said.
Nigeria is France's biggest trading partner in sub-Saharan Africa, Juppe said, with French oil giant Total among the major producers of crude in the country that is Africa's largest oil producer.
Juppe, who arrived in Nigeria on Friday, also held a closed-door meeting with President Goodluck Jonathan on Saturday.
Jonathan told Juppe his government was working hard to check extremism and also piracy in order to create a better environment for trade and investments in Nigeria, his office said.
He thanked French President Nicolas Sarkozy for his "robust support and friendship" that had enabled Nigeria and ECOWAS to successfully restore peace in Ivory Coast after a disputed presidential election.
"We could not have succeeded in restoring peace in Cote d'Ivoire without President Sarkozy's support," he said.
Ivory Coast was a former French colony.
Juppe also visited Kano, the biggest city in the mainly Muslim north of Nigeria where he paid courtesy call on the governor and the Emir.
He expressed condolences with his hosts on last week's coordinated deadly attacks in some northern cities where at least 150 people were killed, warning that extremism was assuming a frightening global dimension.
In a public lecture in the city, he warned that extremism was "developing in the Sahel with Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb, in Somalia and Kenya with Al-Shabab and here in northern Nigeria, with Boko Haram".
"The battle against terrorism is not a battle of one civilisation against another. It is not a battle between one state and another. It is the battle of freedom and democracy against fanaticism and that battle is one in which the entire international community must unite its efforts," he said.
Juppe was due to return to France later Saturday following a trip that also included a visit to South Africa.
© 2011 AFP