How the Mali War is Playing in France

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: Islamist leaders in Mali have responded to the French military offensive against them by threatening retaliation. The Islamists have vowed to strike back at the heart of France. The World's Gerry Hadden is in Paris and he says there are few outward signs in the French capital of a heightened security alert.

Gerry Hadden: There isn't a giant concern about the Islamist rebels in Mali fulfilling their pledge to strike in the heart of France at the moment. Today in Paris, on the streets, you're not really seeing any sort of built-up police or military presence. There are virtually no protests planned for the French military intervention in Mali. There's no sense at all that people are upset about it. I just happen to take the train today from Spain and, from the Spanish border all the way to Paris, sitting across from me were two men with military security uniforms on. At one point, one of them jumped up and began questioning passengers about an apparently abandoned bag at the end of the car. It turned out to belong to somebody who was still on the train. But, these guys didn't want to comment to me about whether they were on the train specifically because there are worries about attacks on French infrastructure or transportation systems. The worry is over the so-called 'lone wolf' sorts of attacks like the one we saw last year in Toulouse in which seven people were killed. Those are the kinds of attacks that are very difficult to stop.

Werman: So, this French muscular intervention in Mali isn't exactly reflected in police concerns on the ground in France.

Hadden: I wouldn't say that. I think it's just not visible. The French security forces often work without uniforms, undercover, and I'm sure that in the train station… I came into Gare de Lyon this afternoon — one of the main train stations in Paris. It was very difficult to see any particular build-up in police or military presence but you can be guaranteed that every corner of that station was under surveillance. France has been at terror alert level 'Red' since 2005 actually, so that's quite high. So, there's already the sense that the French intelligence service are working around the clock, domestically and overseas, to prevent attacks.

Werman: Why such an elevated terrorist threat level in France since 2005, and is France really using the color-coded threat level still?

Hadden: Well, France has the largest, mostly population in Europe and there is always that fear that any French involvement in efforts to rein in or curb terrorist organizations around the world could produce a homegrown backlash.

Werman: How is Francois Hollande perceived in France, generally?

Hadden: He is perceived and has a reputation of being somewhat weak especially when it comes to foreign affairs. However, since last week's intervention in Mali, he's actually seen his popularity rise quite dramatically. There's just a recent poll that's been published of a 1,000 people, and 63 percent actually savored the French intervention in Mali. So, that's a big boost for Hollande who has, as I say, struggled with a reputation for being wishy-washy and weak especially on foreign affairs.

Werman: The World's Gerry Hadden in Paris; thanks so much.

Hadden: My pleasure Marco.