Terrorism Ravaging Africa But Can Be Defeated, France’s Hollande Says
Venezuela-to-France Cocaine Bust Yields 9 Arrests
Williams September 24, 2013, 1:51 p.m. The Islamic militant siege of a shopping mall in the Kenyan capital that has left scores dead demonstrates the grip of terrorism on Africa and the need for international action to defeat it, French President Francois Hollande told the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday. “Africa has fallen prey to terrorism and the barbaric attack in Nairobi confirms this,” Hollande said, referring to the standoff between Kenyan troops and extremists of the Somali Shabab militia that began Saturday. But as the French-led intervention to drive Muslim extremists out of Mali earlier this year showed, “victories are possible against terrorism,” Hollande said. France, fearing the militants plan to use impoverished African states as springboards for European terrorist attacks, launched airstrikes and sent in troops and armored vehicles in January to drive out the Al Qaeda-aligned gunmen. Although numbering only a few hundred, the militants seized the northern half of Mali and imposed a harsh form of Islamic law, beating women who failed to veil themselves and smashing historic tombs, shrines and libraries as vestiges of idolatry and an offense to Islam. The fundamentalist invaders fled the remote northern territory within weeks of the French intervention, but lingering extremists still carry out occasional suicide attacks on cities where the elected government in Bamako maintains only tenuous influence. Hollande last year used his appearance at the General Assembly to call for concerted efforts to rescue Mali. “Now, I would like to sound the alarm for the Central African Republic. It is a small country but one ravaged by coups d’etat and conflicts. Chaos has taken root, and the civilian populations are the victims of it,” Hollande said. He said France would convene an international conference by the end of the year to muster funding and expertise for training and equipping professional armies for vulnerable African states, so that they can ward off Mali-like invasions. “We cannot leave them alone, faced with this terrorist threat,” Hollande said in appealing to European and other countries to join his initiative to enhance Africa’s defenses. “Everywhere chaos reigns, terrorism takes root and grows,” Hollande warned.
Yet the case, kept quiet for nearly two weeks by authorities, also lends credence to Washington’s accusations that Venezuela has become a major drug transit country due to high-level corruption in its military. It controls Simon Bolivar International Airport, the drugs’ port of departure. France’s interior minister, Manuel Valls, praised the investigation that led to six arrests in France and three in Venezuela. But he questioned how nearly three dozen suitcases stuffed with illicit drugs could get through security at a major airport and make it aboard a single commercial flight. “It’s not normal that you can carry more than a ton of cocaine on an Air France plane,” he said Monday on Europe-1 radio. “The fight against drugs requires all the players, notably transport companies, to participate in this cooperation.” Valls said police knew where and to whom the drugs were heading but wouldn’t divulge the information or provide details on who was arrested. His Venezuelan counterpart, Miguel Rodriguez, told reporters that “mafias comprised of Italian and English citizens” were involved and that French police had been tracking them since July. The Paris prosecutor’s office said the six people in custody were to appear before a judge Tuesday to determine whether they would be charged. A spokeswoman said none were French but would not discuss their nationality. Britain’s Foreign Office said three Britons were among those arrested. Rodriquez said authorities had interviewed more than 15 people and “in the coming hours we will surely be announcing more arrests.” On Sunday, police arrested two National Guard sergeants and the lieutenant assigned to counterdrug duties the airport when the incident occurred and Rodriguez said authorities “presume complicity at the airline.” He noted that each of the 31 suitcases would have been far over the usual maximum baggage weight allowed at an average of more than 40 kilograms (88 pounds) each. The Colombian cocaine was placed on Flight 368, which departed on Sept. 10, and seized the following morning at Charles de Gaulle Airport, he said. Air France said it was working with police and conducting an internal investigation. The baggage tickets had fake names, said Alejandro Keleris, director of Venezuela’s counterdrug agency.