TASHKENT • France and Uzbekistan need to strengthen security cooperation in order to combat militant groups and prevent violent attacks, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said on Saturday during a visit to the Central Asian nation.
Suspected Islamist militants from the mainly Muslim former Soviet region have been blamed for two attacks this month - a metro bombing in Russia's second-largest city, St Petersburg, on April 3 and an attack in Stockholm, Sweden, on April 7, where a truck rammed a crowd of people on a busy street.
The Uzbek government said it had informed one of its Western partners that Rakhmat Akilov, the Uzbek national suspected of being behind the Stockholm attack, was an affiliate of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
Mr Ayrault, who met Uzbek Prime Minister Abdulla Aripov and Foreign Minister Abdulaziz Kamilov in Tashkent, said security was on the agenda, as well as economic reforms and human rights.
"We have actively discussed terrorism and radicalisation issues as both of our countries have some youth who are influenced by such groups," Mr Ayrault said. "That is why it is very necessary for us to have an exchange of information to fight against such a phenomenon."
France, which holds the first round of its presidential election on April 23, remains in a state of emergency, with army units patrolling the streets of Paris.
He added that the terrorist acts that happened in St Petersburg and Stockholm are reminders of the need for more cooperation.
France has suffered a series of attacks by Islamist militants over the past few years that have killed scores of people. The country, which holds the first round of its presidential election on April 23, remains in a state of emergency, with army units patrolling the streets of Paris.
Mr Ayrault said the level of cooperation between France and Uzbekistan was insufficient. "Of course, there is some level of cooperation but we need to strengthen it," he said.
He said he also discussed in Tashkent the possibility of "displaying the rich Islamic heritage of Uzbekistan as represented by the ancient cities of Samarkand and Bukhara at the Louvre museum in Paris", describing them as an example of enlightened Islam.
He said: "This is just a project but I know that the Louvre curators are working on that."