While the French government is overwhelmed by Osama's death, French analyst express concern over France, the home of Europe’s largest Muslim population, being the target of radical Islamic terror.

In France, political leaders, editorialists and terrorism experts were quick to comment on the death of Osama bin Laden. French President Nicolas Sarkozy on Monday praised the “tenacity” of the United States in tracking the al Qaeda leader and described his death as “a major blow to international terrorism.”

In a communique published by the Elysee presidential palace Mr. Sarkozy said: “Osama bin Laden promoted an ideology of hate and headed a terrorist organisation which claimed thousands of victims around the world, especially in Muslim countries. Those victims received justice today and France has thoughts for them and their families.”

However, Mr. Sarkozy underlined, “the death of bin Laden will not spell the end of al Qaeda. The fight against these criminals must continue and the States who are their targets must unite to fight them,” the communiqué concluded.

France, an al Qaeda target

Eight French citizens died in a suicide bombing in a popular café frequented by international tourists in Marrakesh, Morocco, last week and although noone has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, it is widely believed to be the handiwork of al Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb, better known by its French acronym AQMI. Al Qaeda has repeatedly warned France that it was a specific target because of its laws against the wearing of the burqa in public.

Former French anti-terrorism judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere told The Hindu that France was high on the terrorists’ list. French secret services such as the DST and the DGSE were extremely vigilant and “several deadly terrorist attacks on French soil have been foiled by special services under their “Vigipirate” anti-terror measures."

France is home the Europe’s largest Muslim population - estimated at between five and six million people and tensions recently have been on the rise between France’s extreme right fringe and this substantial minority which often feel the whiplash of discrimination.

Several French intellectuals have condemned in no uncertain terms President Sarkozy’s predilection for fishing in extreme right waters in order to secure his re-election in 2012. Muslims have resorted to praying in the streets because they say they have not been allowed to build mosques and extreme right wing leaders like Marine Le Pen have not hesitated to liken Muslim street prayers to “an occupation”.

These tensions are picked up by extremist groups both within and outside France and become pretexts for renewed threats in the name of the Muslim Umma.

Concern over French hostages

French terrorism experts including Gerard Chaliand, author of a number of books on terrorism and guerrilla warfare and Roland Jacquard, President of the International Terrorism Observatory warned that the killing of bin Laden could place the lives of several French hostages held by al Qaeda groups whether in Afghanistan, in Niger or Mali in grave danger.

“There will probably be operations in retaliation for bin Laden’s killing. Even though their strength today is far less than it was because of relentless tracking by western agencies and governments, these groups, which operate independently, still have the capacity to spread terror,” Mr. Jacquard told The Hindu.

His declarations were in sharp contrast to claims by both the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and Defence Minister Gerard Longuet that bin Laden’s death could have a “positive” outcome for French hostages held in Afghanistan.

Did Pakistan help Osama or U.S.?

Commentators in France dwelt at length on the Pakistani role, especially the ISI’s role, in bin Laden’s killing as well as on India’s comments describing Pakistan as “a sanctuary” for terrorism and “the fact that bin Laden was found not in some inaccessible cave but in the heart of Abbotabad, some 50 kilometres from the Pakistani capital, comfortably housed in a massive complex of buildings in an area peopled by well heeled retired army officers indicates that the Pakistani army and spy agencies knew of his whereabouts all along. Did they actively cooperate in the enterprise or did the Americans succeed despite Pakistani reluctance to hand over bin Laden is a key question,” said Gerard Chaliand.

Roland Jacquard, however suggested that “an accord between General Kiyani and U.S. authorities could have facilitated the death of bin Laden.” Mr. Jacquard’s theories could be borne out by the fact that President Obama in his declaration praised Islamabad for its help. But if Pakistan did help, the question remains why now?

The news of bin Laden’s death was greeted by a strong opening of European bourses. “I'm not surprised that in the space of two hours the dollar has taken note of the news and a regaining of confidence, which will result from this situation,” French Finance Minister Christne Lagarde said on television early Monday.

INTERPOL for more alertness

Political commentator Hubert Vedrine, who has been one of France’s most eminent foreign ministers said: “Even though al Qaeda is no longer what it was — after the London and Madrid bombings, it has been unable to carry out any major acts of terrorism in western democracies — bin Laden’s death has dealt a massive psychological blow to radical Islamic terrorism. Certainly this is likely to increase the threat in the short term.”

His fears were echoed by the Ronald K. Noble, the General Secretary of the France-based anti-crime organisation INTERPOL.

“The world’s most wanted international terrorist is no more, but the death of bin Laden does not represent the demise of al Qaeda affiliates and those inspired by al Qaeda, who have and will continue to engage in terrorist attacks around the world. We therefore need to remain united and focused in our ongoing cooperation and fight, not only against this global threat but also against terrorism by any group anywhere. I am therefore asking the international network of INTERPOL National Central Bureaus and law enforcement agencies in each of our 188 member countries to be on full alert for acts of retaliation should al Qaeda try to prove they still exist despite the death of their highest profile leader,” Mr. Noble said.

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