|[AFP/Sahara Media] French jihadist Gilles Le Guen in October delivered a message to warn against a military intervention in northern Mali.|
"He was arrested by our troop close to Timbuktu. He was obviously fighting among jihadist groups," French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Europe1 on Wednesday (May 1st).
"The jihadist was not in combat position when he was arrested by our troops, given that the situation in Timbuktu was relatively calm," he added. "However, our troops continue to do their job with necessary night patrols, and in this way, we managed to arrest him."
The minister noted that this case did not represent a general pattern.
"There are only a handful of such cases," he said. "We know their identities, and therefore, we have to take the necessary precautions."
The minister spoke of "an individual deviation to fanaticism" and described the suspect as "a loser who became a terrorist".
Malian airport and security sources told AFP on Thursday that the wife and children of the French Islamist arrested in northern Mali had been "evacuated" to Paris.
Le Guen, 58, who goes by the name Abdel Jelil, was detained on Sunday and is now being questioned in Mali's northeastern city of Gao, AFP reported. The Frenchman is believed to have joined AQIM after moving to Mali with his family following previous stints living in Morocco and Mauritania.
He converted to Islam in 1985, according to Le Monde.
In October, Le Guen appeared in Islamic dress with a gun at his side in a video on a Mauritanian website in which he warned France, the United States and the United Nations against military intervention in Mali to drive Islamists from the country's vast desert north.
To local analysts, the incident proves that terrorism has no nationality and any individual can fall prey to extremist propaganda.
"I'm not surprised with the presence of this French jihadist with the Islamists in Mali," Mauritanian security analyst and strategy expert Hamdi Ould Dah told Magharebia. "Terrorism has become internationalised in recent years, which attracted the attention of some people outside the cultural and civilisational circle where terrorism grew from salafist ideology."
He added that the media "opened the doors for salafist ideology to reach the farthest point in the world". Extremists take advantage of the "means of globalisation" to present some peoples as "oppressed victims of certain policies", he commented.
"Extremism is an approach that a group of individuals who may not be from the same civilisation can join for this or that reason because of psychological inclinations, exactly like some people may resort to suicide or sadism," Ould Dah concluded.
The arrest caught many Malian observers off guard.
"While the French state and its soldiers enjoy much appreciation and respect in Mali, we were shocked to find out about the arrest of a French citizen whose country is trying to liberate the land of Mali from the terrorists," Malian journalist Moussa Maiga said.
"However, this shock may fade away when we come to realise that this French citizen is not much different from the Malians who fight alongside al-Qaeda against their own country," he added.
In her turn, Meriam Coulibaly, a Malian youth activist, wondered, "How can a native French citizen espouse jihadist ideology against us? He must have been a victim of terrorists who deceived him to embrace the ideology of killing and terrorism."
By Jemal Oumar in Nouakchott for Magharebia – 02/05/2013