The bolstered security measures recall those the French took during the 1990s, when Algerian extremists backed an insurgency by the now-defunct Armed Islamic Groups, which had developed an extensive support network in France. Those anti-terror precautions were boosted again after the deadly London subway bombings in 2005.
The terror threat has in many ways permanently changed the cityscape of the French capital and other urban areas in France. Today, for instance, public garbage cans lining streets are made of transparent plastic instead of the metal cans of old, which were used to deposit bombs in the 1990s spree of attacks.
The French president ordered the intervention in Mali after the Islamist insurgents bore south toward Bamako, the capital. The move upset a plan in the works for months, pushed by France and blessed by the United Nations, for an all-African force to intervene along with Mali’s weak army to reconquer the north of the country. That force is still being put together for eventual deployment.
Since talk of an intervention began months ago, Mali’s insurgents have added to their ranks, mainly with fighters from the Sahel region. It is not known how many Europeans have gone to the latest frontier of jihad, but Guidere estimated dozens. At least one U.S. citizen was arrested in December while boarding a flight in Atlanta, Georgia, to Morocco with Mali as his alleged final destination.
The radicals of northern Mali — whom French authorities refer to as ‘‘narco-jihadists’’ because of the drug trafficking attributed to them — are believed to have plenty of money, much of it coming from ransoms of Western hostages. They are also believed to have plenty of weapons, including arms from the arsenal of toppled Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
Evidence that some of the Mali extremists have been in communication with like-minded groups in other countries bodes ill, said Sajjan Gohel, a security and terrorism analyst with the London-based Asia-Pacific Foundation.
‘‘Once you have a dialogue that dialogue can be built on,’’ he said. ‘‘Mali has to now feature very highly on the radar for counter-terrorism agencies.’’
Follow Elaine Ganley at twitter.com/Elaine_Ganley.