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France ups security over 'real' Mali Islamist threats

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France ups security over 'real' Mali Islamist threats
French soldiers on patrol around the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Photo: Joel Saget/AFP
18:30 CET+01:00
France stepped up security at airports and train stations on Monday as intelligence services confirmed threats made by Mali's Islamists to launch an attack on French soil were 'real'.

On Monday one of the leaders of Mali's Islamist rebel groups, Abou Dardar, told AFP they would “strike at the heart of France” in revenge for President Francois Hollande's decision to send in troops to try to oust the militants, an act Dardar labelled as an “attack on Islam”.

Later the head of the (DPGN) intelligence services in Paris, Claude Baland told French media: “We can confirm the importance of the level of the threat, which is real."

France’s national security alert system known as the ‘Plan Vigipirate’ has been raised from red to ‘reinforced red’ following the military intervention in Mali and the subsequent terror threats.

In various statements issued on Monday the French government confirmed steps have already been taken to boost security at various transport hubs including at airports and train stations, as well as at several important public buildings.

“We will increase checks around entrances to public buildings, increase baggage controls as well as the screening of passengers at airports,” France’s Interior Minister Manuel Valls told French daily Le Parisien.

Security will also be beefed up at certain places of worship and specific embassies, Valls added.

Transport operator RATP confirmed it had been asked to step up controls on the Paris Metro as well as on the overground RER network in and around the capital.

French public support intervention

Despite the threat to national security the French population appears to be behind President Francois Hollande’s decision to take on Mali’s Islamist rebels, who are in control of much of the country.

According to an opinion poll sixty-three percent of French back their country's attempt to try to oust the Islamists, with 37 percent against.

The French offensive kicked off on Friday to block the advance of Islamist forces towards the capital from bases in the north which they have controlled since last April.

Hollande’s decision to send in the military has also been largely backed by the French press , who said the president had been left with little choice.

"The French intervention in Mali was unavoidable," right-wing daily Le Figaro said in an editorial, noting that all sides of the French political spectrum had rallied around the decision.

"Abandoning Mali to the Islamists would have compromised all of West Africa and installed a haven for terrorism on the doors of Europe," it wrote.

Le Figaro said only France was in a position to intervene in Mali and that the decision was worth the increased threat of an extremist attack on French soil or abroad.

'Intervention worth the increased risk'

"The worry about the risk of an attack on national soil and the security of our expatriate countrymen cannot override the defence of our higher interests," it wrote.

Left-wing daily Liberation also praised Hollande's decision, saying he was to be congratulated for stopping "the Taliban of the desert".

Left-wing daily Le Monde also struck a note of caution, saying that while France was acting with the support of the international community, there was a danger of it being dragged into a long and damaging conflict.

"We know how these military interventions begin. We never know how they are going to end. Or rather, we know that many of them end up badly," it wrote.

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