France/US/Bin Laden’s death – Impact on al-Qaeda/threat of revenge – Islam – Pakistani role/Afghanistan/US – Syria
Paris, May 2, 2011
FRANCE/US/BIN LADEN’S DEATH
Q. – The death of Osama Bin Laden, hunted for more than 10 years, obviously matters to the United States but also the whole world, this morning.
THE MINISTER – Yes, and I must say that we understand and share the American people’s joy. We must remember the appalling tragedy they experienced on 11 September 2001, as you’ve recalled: 3,000 deaths, those very symbolic attacks on the twin towers in New York. And as President Obama said, the feeling that today justice has been done explains the American people’s explosion of joy, which we can only share.
Q. – So, through you, is France congratulating President Obama and all those who, for a long time, have managed to conduct the operation with such thoroughness and precision?
THE MINISTER – It’s a struggle we share, as you know: we too are fighting terrorism, which is an abominable scourge, because attacking innocent people barbarically, as we’ve seen again in Marrakesh, is the ultimate cowardice. It’s something that spurs all democracies into action.
Q. – Cooperation with the United States is working well.
THE MINISTER – It’s working very, very well, in the face of al-Qaeda, in the face of the terrorist threat as a whole. Our services are working in very close cooperation and very close agreement.
Q. – But did France know the United States had located Bin Laden several months ago and had been pursuing him, tracking him?
THE MINISTER – We knew the hunt was under way, but obviously, as you’ll understand, the moment of intervention requires secrecy.
IMPACT ON AL-QAEDA/THREAT OF REVENGE
Q. – Is this [just] a blow, or do you believe it’s a decisive blow to the men and leadership of al-Qaeda? The elimination of Bin Laden clearly doesn’t mean terrorism has been eradicated, does it?
THE MINISTER – Clearly not. I think it’s a decisive blow, because the figure of Bin Laden was, after all, extraordinarily symbolic: the messages addressed to democratic countries were most often signed and uttered by him. So it has extremely strong symbolic value, as I’ve just said. Even so, al-Qaeda’s structures remain and there are number twos and number threes. We see it in Afghanistan, moreover, when we dismantle a network: there’s often a replacement afterwards.
And – as has been said by all your experts throughout this programme – there are also groups claiming to belong to al-Qaeda but which have a certain autonomy; it’s a “decentralized” organization, as it were, and these groups will remain. I’m thinking in particular of AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb].
Q. – So do you think Bin Laden’s real or autonomous successors, here and there around the world, are going to try to avenge him and get their own revenge?
THE MINISTER – The terrorist threat hasn’t disappeared, so we must remain totally mobilized in order to confront it. There too, we’ve given very precise instructions, and as you know we’re particularly exposed to this threat in the Sahel.
Q. – Yes, we know things will probably never be the same again. Bin Laden made Islam and Muslims suffer; he didn’t symbolize Islam. Perhaps, this morning, we should remind people of that.
THE MINISTER – I hope it’s clear in everyone’s mind: Islam itself isn’t a terrorist religion; Islam carries a message of peace and fraternity among men. And I think it’s very important to distinguish radicalism, fundamentalism and fanaticism – which distort the message of Islam – from the Muslim religion with which all the great Religions of the Book maintain a dialogue of trust.
Q. – Should we say this morning that the jihadist Islamists may react, especially if – as is starting to happen, rather too much – the mutilated body of Bin Laden is displayed?
THE MINISTER – I hope that in the face of death – which in any case merits discretion and restraint – people won’t get involved in this media circus. What counts is the action that was carried out; I repeat, it’s justice, and we must be very clear on this point, but let’s maintain the necessary restraint.
Q. – For years, people thought Bin Laden was in the Afghan mountains; he was quite simply in Pakistan, in an important city in Pakistan, in a quiet house.
THE MINISTER – One of the questions raised, which obviously deserves to be answered, is the degree of cooperation between the American agencies, the Western agencies, and the Pakistani agencies. As you know, those agencies have long been criticized for being a little ambiguous in their pursuit, our pursuit against terrorism; it would be interesting to know how this operation was set up, and further investigations will obviously be necessary.
Q. – This time it seems Pakistan has cooperated; she had doubtless known for a long time where Bin Laden was hiding; Pakistan is still a den of terrorists.
THE MINISTER – We need Pakistan’s cooperation: let’s not forget that the fight in Afghanistan is continuing and Bin Laden’s disappearance won’t suddenly resolve the problem in Afghanistan.
Now, in Afghanistan we’ll succeed in helping the Afghan government restore its authority and ensure democracy prevails only if Pakistan cooperates with us, and I think what must have happened to bring about the capture of Bin Laden is a step in the right direction.
Q. – So the Pakistanis – both their interests and their leaders – will be under threat, but can it be said that American leaders and interests everywhere will be under threat as from today?
THE MINISTER – The interests of the Americans and the interests of all democracies. We too are receiving threats, so the solidarity of those who respect human life, those who believe strongly in the importance of human rights, is more necessary than ever in the face of what’s clearly a form of barbarism and distortion of Islam’s message.
Q. – Barack Obama said: “Justice has been done.” Justice has been done for one State, that’s true, the State most concerned, but did it have an international mission to act as it did?
THE MINISTER – Look, let’s not get into the knack of always looking for difficulties; let’s keep it simple. Bin Laden ordered murderous attacks in the United States; it was natural for the United States to hunt him down to bring him to justice. Events led to him being killed; I share President Obama’s feeling: justice has been done.
Q. – Is what happened also a warning to all terrorists and to leaders who fire on their people? I’m thinking, for example, of Bashar al-Assad and especially Gaddafi.
THE MINISTER – Come on, let’s not mix everything up, terrorism and dictatorship…
Q. – But there are sometimes State terrorists .
THE MINISTER – There’s State terrorism, indeed there are also human rights violations by heads of State who don’t hesitate to shoot at people and, as you know, France’s position on this is extremely clear. We’ve condemned all those committing this kind of crime, and we do so utterly.
As regards Syria, there’s no way out if the Syrian regime continues on this path – it will fall one day or another. And we’re working with our European partners to draw up a number of sanctions at European level to clearly show not just our condemnation but also the action we take against this kind of behaviour. Today there’s this great aspiration for freedom and democracy; it has to be taken into account, and suppressing it by firing live bullets at crowds is unacceptable, whatever country is doing it.
Q. – That’s a warning to Syria and Bashar al-Assad. NATO bombarded the Gaddafi family’s living quarters, killing one of his sons, and grandsons. Is this all right? Was he the target? Does that mean NATO’s next target is Gaddafi himself?
THE MINISTER – I refer to the statements made by NATO military leaders; they didn’t fire at living quarters, they fired at a bunker which was a military command centre. But the response is in Gaddafi’s hands; he has to step aside, he has to stand down and let the Libyan people, too, achieve democracy.
Q. – Might Bin Laden’s death have consequences for the Afghanistan war and the presence of French soldiers in Afghanistan?
THE MINISTER – It will inevitably have consequences; as I said earlier, it’s a very symbolic death, but the fact remains that al-Qaeda’s structures – and it isn’t just al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, it’s all the Taliban troops too – are still there, and the situation today hasn’t necessarily calmed down.
Q. – It’s a great day for democracy.
THE MINISTER – I think we should be overjoyed when such a significant criminal – who for years and years defied all peoples and not just the American people, but every other: let’s not forget the threats made to the French people, President Sarkozy and the French hostages – the death of such a barbarian can only satisfy all those who share, I repeat, a certain idea of the dignity of mankind and the respect due to human beings. You don’t kill civilians, men, women, old people, young people, in acts of such totally gratuitous barbarity – that’s terrorism, something which is absolutely intolerable, on which we have to mobilize./.