PARIS (AP) — Terror groups ousted from Mali appear to be trying to set up a new haven in Libya, France's defense minister said Monday, vowing to discuss ways of helping Tripoli improve its shaky security with U.S. officials later this week.
Jean-Yves Le Drian noted that there is common ground: both French and U.S. diplomatic outposts in Libya were hit by terror attacks.
French forces took a leading role in driving al-Qaida-linked rebels from their bases in northern Mali this year, and officials have expressed concern that Libya may be al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb's next choice of sanctuary.
"Apparently in Libya there are attempts to constitute a new terrorist hotbed — 'apparently,' I weigh my words well — and there's a Libyan state that exists, has institutions, and is appropriate to help to ensure its sovereignty over its territory," Le Drian told a group of American and British reporters ahead of his trips to London and Washington on Thursday and Friday. "It's certain that we will talk about it."
French forces were backed by African countries and U.S. intelligence and logistics support in the Mali intervention. France, Britain and the U.S. also were pivotal in the NATO-led air campaign over Libya that helped rebels oust Moammar Gadhafi's regime two years ago.
French officials believe that some jihadists may have fled Mali along traditional drug and other contraband trafficking routes through Niger and into Libya. Le Drian did not answer a question about how many there are.
"They were pretty shaken up — decimated — by our intervention" that began on Jan. 11. Last month, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved a new U.N. peacekeeping force for Mali to help restore democracy and stabilize the northern half of the country. France plans to keep 1,000 troops in Mali to take part in the U.N. mission, train Malian forces, and battle any terrorist remnants.