France “declares war” against al-Qaida

France has declared war on al-Qaida, and matched its fighting words with a first attack on a base camp of the terror network’s North African branch, after the terror network killed a French aid worker it took hostage in April.

The declaration and attack marked a shift in strategy for France, usually discrete about its behind-the-scenes battle against terrorism.

“We are at war with al-Qaida,” Prime Minister Francois Fillon said Tuesday, a day after President Nicolas Sarkozy announced the death of 78-year-old hostage Michel Germaneau.

The humanitarian worker had been abducted April 20 or 22 in Niger by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, and was later taken to Mali, officials said.

The killers will “not go unpunished,” Sarkozy said in unusually strong language, given France’s habit of employing quiet cooperation with its regional allies — Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Algeria — in which the al-Qaida franchise was spawned amid an Islamist insurgency.

The Salafist Group for Call and Combat formally merged with al-Qaida in 2006 and spread through the Sahel region — parts of Mauritania, Mali and Niger.

Officials suggest France will activate accords with these countries to stop the terrorists in their tracks.

“It’s a universal threat that concerns the entire world … not just France or the West,” Defense Minister Herve Morin said Tuesday on France-2 television. “We will support local authorities so these assassins and (their) commanders are tracked, judged and taken before justice and punished. And, yes, we will help them.”

Algeria, Mauritania, Mali and Niger in April opened a joint military headquarters deep in the desert to respond to threats from traffickers and the al-Qaida offshoot. U.S. Special Forces have helped the four nations train troops in recent years.

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