Egypt using French military aid to 'kill civilians': Report

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (left) meets French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of an international summit on Libya, in Paris on Nov 12, 2021.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi (left) meets French President Emmanuel Macron ahead of an international summit on Libya, in Paris on Nov 12, 2021.PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (AFP) - Egypt has used intelligence supplied by the French military to target and "kill civilians" suspected of smuggling, according to a report on Sunday (Nov 21) by investigative website Disclose, based on leaked documents.

Opposition deputies immediately called for a parliamentary committee to be set up to investigate the affair, while Defence Minister Florence Parly ordered her own investigation.

The mission between the two countries, named Sirli, was designed to provide intelligence on the militant threat along Egypt's western border with Libya, according to Disclose.

"In principle, the mission...consisted of searching the Western Desert to find possible terrorist threats coming from Libya", using a light aircraft designed for surveillance and reconnaissance, it said.

"But very quickly, the (French) members of the team understand that the intelligence supplied to the Egyptians are used to kill civilians suspected of contraband," the website wrote.

French military staff regularly notified their superiors of the abuse of the information, it added.

Disclose based its report on hundreds of classified documents on the operation that were leaked to it.

According to those documents, the French military was implicated in at least 19 airstrikes against civilians, between 2016 and 2018.

Operation Sirli began in February 2016 during the presidency of Francois Hollande.

It continued despite the reservations expressed by both French military intelligence and the airforce about the way that Egypt was using the intelligence, said Disclose.

One such note was addressed to French Defence Minister Florence Parly on Jan 22, 2019, before French President Emmanuel Macron's official visit to Egypt.

The French military was nevertheless still deployed in Egypt, Disclose reported.

Neither the French presidency nor any of the arms of the military responded to an approach from the journalists who carried out the investigation.

Within hours of the story's publication, a statement from France's defence ministry confirmed that the two countries had arrangements in the field of intelligence and counter-terrorism.

For security reasons, however, they were not prepared to say any more on the matter.

The statement added that Minister Parly had asked for an investigation to be launched into the information revealed by Disclose.

The left-wing opposition France Unbowed party issued a statement calling for a parliamentary inquiry into the allegations.

The party called for Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who served as defence minister during the Hollande presidency, to come before Parliament to explain what was going on.

Although France has expressed a desire to refocus its arms exports on Europe, Egypt remains one of its main clients.

Its sales there increased considerably when President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi took power in 2014. Since then, Egypt has bought France's Rafale fighter aircraft, a frigate, four corvettes and two Mistral helicopter-carriers.

In December 2020, President Macron awarded Mr Sisi the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, the highest award that France has to offer, provoking outrage from activists who have criticised his human rights record.