ISIS and Al Qaeda terrorist groups in West Africa are plotting atrocities in Europe, according to a stark warning from the head of France’s foreign security services on the growing threat from the region.
Bernard Emie, head of the Directorate General for External Security (DGSE), warned of the ISIS threat from Mali and released a covert video recording of an Al Qaeda chief allegedly plotting expansion across West Africa.
“From Mali, the terrorists have worked on attacks against us, against our partners and they are thinking about attacks in the region and in Europe,” said Mr Emie. He stressed that Al Qaeda in the Sahel region had a more “internationalist” agenda and was promoting global attacks.
Hours after the warning, heavily armed terrorists, some reported to be in armoured vehicles, attacked a government outpost in Mali, killing nine soldiers in the dawn raid.
With 5,000 troops stationed in Mali, France is targeting two main extremist organisations in the Sahel region of West Africa, ISIS and the local branch of Al Qaeda.
Mr Emie, speaking at the Orleans-Bricy airbase south of Paris, described the ISIS extremist leader Adnan Al-Sahraoui as a man involved in "savagery" with a "bloodthirsty" temperament.
But he said the Al Qaeda group presented the greater threat because it had bigger contingent of foreign fighters in its ranks. "There is a stranglehold of foreign fighters in the Sahelian [conflict] where most of the fighters are not Malians".
He said the terrorist group was also attempting to "prevent the peace and reconciliation process in Mali launched in 2015".
He designated Iyad Ag-Ghali, the head of Al Qaeda in the Sahel, as France’s new enemy number one, describing him as one of the "spiritual sons of Osama bin Laden".
"He tries to appear as more presentable by hiding among the population while forcibly enlisting young unemployed. This is not someone who thinks about terrorism, this is someone who practices it on a daily basis. He does not hesitate to take up arms himself and have innocent people executed.”
The security chief showed the covert video recording of a strategy meeting that took place between terrorist chiefs in February last year, in which Ag-Ghali called for a “series of large-scale attacks against military bases”.
Mr Emie believes the local Al Qaeda chiefs are planning to expand their terrorist operations further across West Africa into the Gulf of Guinea. "These countries are now targets too. To spread southwards, the terrorists are already financing men who are entering Ivory Coast or Benin on the borders of Nigeria, Niger and Chad".
He also highlighted concerns about the growing terrorist threats in East Africa, Yemen and Libya, "in the shadow of the borders" of Europe.
Sightline from 2020: France's battle with extremism in the Sahel
Mr Emie said ISIS continued to "to train and fight" in Syria and Iraq, with "plans for an attack".
France is battling behind the scenes at the UN for designation of the G5 Sahel counter-terrorism coalition to be brought within funding structures for peacekeeping.
A veteran ambassador and diplomatic envoy, Mr Emie has been the French foreign intelligence boss since 2017. At his rare public intervention, he was joined by Florence Parly, the French Defence Minister, who believes there had been a "transformation of terrorism" over the past year in which fanatics had "moved upmarket" into the new battlefield of cyber and information warfare.
France, the worst-hit European country from ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks, is expected to be on even higher alert for extremist assaults.