The New York Times reports: Fearing that the Obama administration may not take what they consider to be a tough enough stand in the next round of negotiations on a nuclear deal with Iran, senior Israeli officials held talks in Paris on Monday with senior members of the French government and will go to London on Tuesday in an attempt to influence the final terms of any agreement.
France and Britain are among the six world powers — along with the United States, Russia, China and Germany — that are negotiating with Iran on an accord that would require Tehran to submit to verifiable limitations on its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of United Nations sanctions, as well as separate sets of sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union.
Negotiations are scheduled to resume later this week in Lausanne, Switzerland, with negotiators working against a self-imposed deadline of March 31 to reach a preliminary agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry will meet on Thursday with the chief Iranian negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, and some of the foreign ministers from other countries are expected to arrive subsequently.
The Israeli intelligence minister, Yuval Steinitz, said in a statement released Monday night that the talks with the French national security adviser, Jacques Audibert, and the French nuclear negotiating team were “serious and profound” and that the Israelis had laid out their reservations about the emerging deal.
Mr. Steinitz indicated, however, that the Israelis had no illusions that their flurry of international meetings would stop an accord. [Continue reading…]
The Observer reports: At an election meeting just days before France’s regional elections, a Japanese journalist asked Marine Le Pen a question: why was her far-right Front National party tipped to do so well?
Polls suggest that the FN vote will reach unprecedented levels, with up to 30% of the vote, just ahead of the opposition Union for a Popular Movement (UMP) party and leaving the ruling Socialist party trailing.
“The Front National is alone against everyone. The French people have realised for some time now that the Front National’s analysis is right, and the other political parties have failed,” Le Pen responded. The FN had gone from “a party of opposition … to a movement of government” by addressing “the economy, immigration and Islamic fundamentalism”, she added.
From Le Pen, a damning analysis of this type might be expected. But from a member of the leftwing commentariat? A new “state of the nation” tome, L’Insécurité culturelle, by analyst Laurent Bouvet, has caused a storm in Paris salons by suggesting that the country’s working class is ready to vote FN in droves because it has been abandoned by the left and deceived by the country’s Socialist government. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: French spy agencies will have more powers to bug and track would-be Islamist attackers and authorities will be able to force Internet providers to monitor suspicious behavior under a draft law unveiled on Thursday.
Just over two months after 17 people were killed in attacks by homegrown Islamist gunmen in Paris, Prime Minister Manuel Valls unveiled a bill to allow spy agencies to tap phones and emails without seeking permission from a judge.
Surveillance staff will also be able to bug suspects’ flats with microphones and cameras and add “keyloggers” to their computers to track every keystroke.
Civil liberties advocates said the bill went too far and lacked adequate privacy protections but Valls pledged France would not hoover up vast quantities of data under the new law. [Continue reading…]
On the campaign trail with Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front in France, the Economist reports: Ms Le Pen’s celebrity welcome in the tiny northern French town of Doullens is a mark of how far she has transformed a once-toxic fringe movement, stained by neo-Nazi links and anti-Semitism, into an almost respectable party aspiring to govern. Five years ago voters who felt drawn to her father, Jean-Marie, a gruff former paratrooper who founded the party in 1972, still kept their approval half-hidden until election day. Today, they display no such reserve towards his daughter.
On the campaign trail ahead of departmental elections later this month, the crowd in the Doullens market is thick and Ms Le Pen’s progress through it snail-like. After dropping in on Les Deux Ailes hunting shop, its rifles displayed in the window like fine patisseries, Ms Le Pen stops in the street market for selfies, kisses children and stoops to greet those in wheelchairs. This is a politician who is on the up, and knows it. “We are on a path towards…power!” she declares, with a broad grin.
Polls suggest that the FN will come top in the first round of voting in the elections on March 22nd, grabbing at least 30% of the vote. This would beat its previous best score of 25%, in last year’s elections for the European Parliament. The Front may not go on to win many local assemblies, as voters from centre-left and centre-right will gang up against it in the second round. But to the FN this is not a concern. It is fielding 7,648 candidates, in 95% of constituencies, up from a third in 2011, as part of a longer game: to secure hundreds of seats, even if in opposition, in order to build up an army of elected officials across the country who can help prepare Ms Le Pen for the presidential election in 2017.
Kenan Malik writes: What is striking about the stories of wannabe jihadis is their diversity. There is no “typical” recruit, no single path to jihadism.
Sahra Ali Mehenni is a schoolgirl from a middle-class family in the south of France. Her father, an industrial chemist, is a non-practising Muslim, her mother an atheist. “I never heard her talk about Syria, jihad,” said her mother. One day last March, to the shock of her family, she took not her usual train to school but a flight from Marseilles to Istanbul to join Isis. When she finally phoned home it was to say: “I’ve married Farid, a fighter from Tunisia.”
Kreshnik Berisha, a German born of Kosovan parents, played as a teenager for Makkabi Frankfurt, a Jewish football club and one of Germany’s top amateur teams. He went on to study engineering and in July 2013, boarded a bus to Istanbul and then to Syria. “I didn’t believe it,” said Alon Meyer, Makkabi Frankfurt’s coach. “This was a guy who used to play with Jewish players every week. He was comfortable there and he seemed happy.” Berisha later returned home to become the first German homegrown jihadi to face trial.
There are hundreds of stories such as these, from all over Europe. What they tell us is that, shocking though it may seem, there is nothing unusual in the story of the runaway Tower Hamlets schoolgirls. And that what Emwazi has in common with other European recruits is not so much his harassment as his college education.
The usual clichés about jihadis – that they are poor, uneducated, badly integrated – are rarely true. A survey of British jihadis by researchers at London’s Queen Mary College found no link to “social inequalities or poor education”; most were highly educated young people from comfortable families who spoke English at home. According to Le Monde, a quarter of French jihadis in Syria are from non-Muslim backgrounds.
What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.
There is, of course, nothing new in the youthful search for identity and meaning. What is different today is the social context in which this search takes place. We live in a more atomised society than in the past; an age in which many people feel peculiarly disengaged from mainstream social institutions and in which moral lines often seem blurred and identities distorted.
In the past, social disaffection may have led people to join movements for political change, from far-left groups to anti-racist campaigns. Today, such organisations often seem equally out of touch. What gives shape to contemporary disaffection is not progressive politics but the politics of identity.
Identity politics has, over the last three decades, encouraged people to define themselves in increasingly narrow ethnic or cultural terms. A generation ago, “radicalised” Muslims would probably have been far more secular in their outlook and their radicalism would have expressed itself through political organisations. Today, they see themselves as Muslim in an almost tribal sense, and give vent to their disaffection through a stark vision of Islam. [Continue reading…]
After all night talks in the Belarusian capital Minsk, the outcomes of the four party talks in the so-called Normandy format (Ukraine, Russia, France, and Germany) have neither brought a major breakthrough or a complete disaster. As a deal, it is not a solution, but perhaps a step towards one.
It almost seems to be business as usual – yet another ceasefire deal and commitments to further negotiations on a more durable political settlement – but, by the standards of this crisis, this is not the outcome Ukraine’s people may have hoped for. Not least because the deal, as soon as it was announced, ran into its first set of problems with rebels demanding Ukrainian forces withdraw from the strategic town of Debaltseve before they would agree to the ceasefire.
At the very least, this might mean two more days of heavy fighting before the ceasefire starts on 15 February, at worst it might mean the deal will never be implemented at all.
In the run-up to last might’s summit, the crisis in Ukraine seemed to head towards a major juncture, along with relations between Russia and the West and within the Transatlantic alliance. The weeks before the summit in Minsk has seen intensifying diplomacy, escalating rhetoric, increased fighting on the ground, and a worsening humanitarian situation.
Kabir Chibber: In recent months, a street movement called Pegida — Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the Occident — has emerged from nowhere in Germany, seeking to “protect Judeo-Christian culture” and halt to what it calls the spread of Islam. Though it denies being xenophobic or racist, its leader quit after being pictured dressed as Hitler. Pegida’s rallies have attracted tens of thousands of people in Germany.
And now the group is spreading abroad. Pegida held its first march in Vienna and is to hold its first British rally in the city of Newcastle on Feb. 28, with more planned in the UK. Britain already has anti-Islamic groups such as the English Defence League, a small but vocal force. Only this weekend, the EDL attracted as many as 1,000 people to a march against the building of a mosque.
Mitchell Prothero reports: At least 12 former members of the French military are among the estimated 1,000 French citizens who’ve joined the Islamic State, including one highly trained special forces commando who was radicalized while working as a security contractor in the Persian Gulf, according to French officials and analysts as well as Arab security services.
One French intelligence official said the number is a reflection of France’s changing demographics, even though mandatory military service ended in France in 2001.
“I don’t have any hard numbers on this because France is a secular society where religious affiliation isn’t supposed to be tracked formally, but the general sense is that the French military has evolved into a heavily – and often devout – Roman Catholic officer corps leading a primarily and somewhat devout Muslim enlisted formation,” said the official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.
At least three former soldiers have been apprehended attempting to return to France from the Middle East after having fought alongside insurgents, according to a recent statement by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian. Nine others currently fighting with the Islamic State have been identified. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian reports: The leaders of Germany and France abruptly announced a summit with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, in Moscow on Friday in response to overtures from the Kremlin, raising hopes of a breakthrough in the year-old Ukraine conflict.
The sudden and unusual decision by the chancellor, Angela Merkel, and the president, François Hollande, to travel to Moscow, with the French leader talking of decisions of war and peace, increased the stakes in the crisis while also raising suspicions that the Kremlin was seeking to split Europe and the US. Putin was said to have made “initiatives” to the European leaders in recent days.
Merkel and Hollande met the Ukrainian president, Petro Poroshenko, in Kiev on Thursday evening but left without making any comment. Ukraine’s foreign minister, Pavlo Klimkin, said on Twitter that the leaders had discussed “steps so that the Minsk agreement can start working”. A ceasefire signed in Minsk in September froze the frontlines at their positions at the time, but never held.
Friday’s visit will be Merkel’s first trip to Russia since the outbreak of violence in eastern Ukraine, which has now cost more than 5,000 lives. The increase in diplomatic efforts came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, also met Poroshenko and other top officials in Kiev.
At a joint news conference with Ukraine’s prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, Kerry sounded lukewarm about Merkel and Hollande’s visit. [Continue reading…]
Shaun Walker writes: In Kiev, John Kerry had a clear message for Russia and Vladimir Putin: the Kremlin should respect Ukraine’s territory, negotiate constructively and stop funnelling weapons and troops into the east of the country.
The problem is that it is the same message the US secretary of state and other western politicians have been delivering for more than half a year, to pretty much zero effect.
The issue for western negotiators has been how to force Russia to stop doing something that, even in private, it won’t admit it is doing. Washington is now grappling with whether it should back up its messages to Putin with an “or else” and seriously begin negotiations on supplying arms to Kiev.
In an editorial, The Guardian says: Europe does have leverage, if it chooses to use it. Russia may be a geopolitical giant but its GDP is no bigger than Italy’s. It is dependent on Europe’s financial structures. Yet next to the plunging oil price, the EU sanctions thus far have had a virtually symbolic impact. Cutting Russian banks and companies from the Belgium-based Swift international transaction system would, by contrast, impose a serious jolt. It could be done quickly, but then also rolled rapidly back. It has worked before, against Iran, which entered nuclear negotiations soon after being banned from Swift in 2012. Many businesses would balk at the costs. But these would surely be easier to bear than the enduring damage done by a widening war on the European continent.
Mr Putin regards the EU as a strategic midget. He will respect it only when Russia’s predatory oligarchy is confronted with some red lines. When Mrs Merkel and Mr Hollande head for Moscow, they should put Swift on the table.
Vice News: Speaking at a political conference Sunday in Cairo, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi unveiled a $1.31 billion budget for counterterrorism efforts in the eastern Sinai Peninsula, an area that has repeatedly been hit by militant attacks. Addressing politicians in the Egyptian capital, Sisi announced he is looking to France to supply Egypt with much-needed modern military equipment.
The US halted the delivery of 20 F-16 fighter jets, 125 M1-A1 battle tank kits, and 20 Harpoon cruise missiles to Egypt following the 2013 coup that ousted former President Mohammed Morsi, but 10 Apache helicopters included in the original deal were reportedly delivered last month. The US also suspended a portion of the $1.3 billion worth economic and military aid delivered annually to Egypt, though the withheld funds were released last June after Congress passed a law that requires the Egyptian government to take steps to improve human rights conditions in order to receive the aid.
AFP reports: The ideological leader of Yemen-based Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) said Friday that France had surpassed the United States as the top enemy of Islam.
With the “weakening” of the United States in recent years, France has replaced America in the “war on Islam,” Ibrahim al-Rubaish said in an audio message published by AQAP’s media arm on YouTube.
US intelligence agencies consider AQAP to be the most dangerous branch of the jihadist network.
One of the group’s ideologues, Nasser bin Ali al-Ansi, has claimed in a video that AQAP was behind the January 7 attack on French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo that left 12 people dead.
Cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed published by the magazine have angered many Muslims.
Western governments say it remains unclear if AQAP directly orchestrated the attack on the weekly, although they do believe one or both of the attackers, brothers Said and Cherif Kouachi, spent time with jihadists in Yemen. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The man was sent to France’s largest prison for armed robbery. He emerged a toughened radical who would go on to take part in the bloodiest terrorist attacks on French soil in decades.
France’s prisons have a reputation as factories for radical Islamists, taking in ordinary criminals and turning them out as far more dangerous people. Here at the Fleury-Merogis prison — where Amedy Coulibaly did time alongside another of the attackers in the deadly assaults this month in and around Paris — authorities are struggling to quell a problem that they say was long threatening to explode.
Former inmates, imams and guards all describe a chaotic scene inside these concrete walls, 15 miles from the elegant boulevards surrounding the Eiffel Tower. Militancy lurks in the shadows, and the best-behaved men are sometimes the most dangerous. French Prime Minister Manuel Valls promised last week to flood his nation’s prisons with 60 more Muslim chaplains, doubling their budget to try to combat radicalization. Authorities this week raided 80 prison cells of suspected radicals, saying they found cellphones, USB drives and other contraband. Hundreds of inmates in French prisons are a potential threat, authorities say.
But critics say that these efforts are minuscule compared with the scope of the problem, with prisons so poorly controlled that a leaked French government report once described Osama bin Laden posters hanging on inmates’ walls. The challenge may be compounded by the dozens of people sent to jail after the recent attacks, some for more than a year, under fast-track proceedings in which they were charged with verbal support for terrorism.
“Prison destroys men,” said Mohamed Boina M’Koubou, an imam who works in the Fleury-Merogis prison. “There are people who are easy targets to spot and make into killers.” [Continue reading…]
France admits soldiers have deserted to ISIS, including ex-elite special forces and French foreign legionnaires
The Telegraph reports: Several French former soldiers have joined the ranks of jihadists fighting in Syria and Iraq, the country’s government confirmed on Wednesday, as it outlined a series of new anti-terrorism measures following the Islamist attacks in Paris.
Most of the ex-soldiers, reportedly numbering around 10 and including former paratroopers and French foreign legionnaires, are said to be fighting on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Most worrying is the reported presence of an ex-member of France’s elite First Marine Infantry Parachute Regiment, considered one of Europe’s most experienced special forces units and which shares the “Who Dares Wins” motto of the SAS.
The unnamed individual, of North African origin, had received commando training in combat, shooting and survival techniques. He served for five years before joining a private security company for which he worked in the Arabian peninsula, where he was radicalised before heading for Syria, according to L’Opinion, a news website. [Continue reading…]
Francis Ghiles writes: Some French intellectuals and leading figures in the media argue that terrorism is the inevitable and extreme expression of a “true” Islam which entails the denial of the other, the imposition of strict rules in the guise of sharia law and ultimately jihad. Olivier Roy, a lucid analyst of his country’s politics, says that Muslims in France today are viewed as having Qur’anic software hardwired in their sub-conscious, which renders them incapable of assimilation into French society. Their only salvation lies in repeating their allegiance to France’s Republican values, preferably when pushed to do so on a live television show.
It is little understood, however, that the Republic’s cherished values of secularism and freedom of speech historically have a darker side. The civil liberties now idealised emerged during a period of colonial rule. As the historian Arthur Asseraf reminds us, France’s iconic freedom of the press law, passed in 1881 and still enforced today, was designed in part to exclude France’s Muslim subjects. The law protected the rights of all French citizens, explicitly all those in Algeria and the colonies, but excluded the subjects who were the majority of the population. In colonial Algeria, “citizens” were all those who were not Muslims, and the terms musulman or indigène usually overlapped. Muslim was a racialised legal category stripped of any religious significance.
Maybe the banlieues of today could be best understood as the Algeria of the 19th century: the legacy of French apartheid must be borne in mind when considering the problems of minorities. In the starkest indictment ever of French society by a senior government official, Valls said on Wednesday that “a geographic, social, ethnic apartheid has developed in our country”. The furious reaction to his remark hardly augurs well for a reasoned debate. Yet, in the banlieues of Paris, more than 50% of young people, often Muslim, are unemployed. They are hitting the glass wall between them and the workplace; prisoners with a north African father outnumber prisoners with a French father by nine to one for the 18-29 age group, and six to one in the 20-39 age group. This points to a massive failure of French society to integrate minority groups. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: Prime Minister Manuel Valls of France on Tuesday cited a deep divide in the country, likening it to a state of “territorial, social, ethnic apartheid” that has left part of the population on the cultural fringe.
Mr. Valls, often regarded as the most popular politician in the leftist government of President François Hollande, has been known for his outspokenness and tough stance on radical Islam. A day after the end of the attacks in the Paris area that left 17 people dead at the hands of three Muslim extremists from France, Mr. Valls spoke of waging a war “against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islam, against everything that is aimed at breaking fraternity, freedom, solidarity.”
But during a traditional New Year’s speech on Tuesday, Mr. Valls acknowledged that France had a deeply rooted problem that, he implied, had resulted in a divided society.
“These last few days have emphasized many of the evils which have undermined our country from within, or challenges we have to face,” he said. “To that, we must add all the divisions, the tensions that have been brewing for too long and that we mention sporadically.”
“A territorial, social, ethnic apartheid has spread across our country,” he said.
Mr. Valls avoided singling out Muslims, but it was clear that his remarks were a response to the terrorist attacks this month and addressed growing concerns about the situation of “two Frances” that, he said, has relegated the poor and heavily immigrant population to ghetto-like suburbs of Paris, where many Muslims from North African backgrounds live. [Continue reading…]
McClatchy reports: For the wife of the gunman accused of killing four people at a kosher super market in Paris 10 days ago, the escape from questioning about complicity in the Charlie Hebdo terror attacks was relatively easy.
Once Hayat Boumeddiene, 26, got to Turkey, she followed the path of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other European jihadi volunteers before her – into the self-declared Islamic State.
Aided by smugglers in the Turkish border town of Akcakale, and several companions, she walked through a disused border crossing on Jan. 8 and into the Syrian town of Tal Abyad, which has been an Islamic State stronghold for months.
She would have passed a guard shack on the old road between Alcakale and Tal Abyad, but if Turkish border guards took any notice, they made no effort to stop her, according to a Turkish security official, who spoke anonymously because speaking on the record was not allowed.
By the time French police identified Boumeddiene as one of the suspects in a terrorism onslaught that cost 17 people their lives and that France is calling its equivalent of 9/11, she was beyond their reach. The other three suspects, her husband, Amedy Coulibaly, who is believed to have killed a policewoman in addition to the four at the supermarket, and Said and Cherif Kouachi, blamed for the deaths of 12 at the Charlie Hebdo offices, would die in shootouts with police.
The Algerian-born Boumeddiene is not the first foreigner to cross into Islamic State territory from Akcakale and the surrounding region. But her escape focuses fresh attention on what is a sore point between Turkey and its European neighbors – the ease with which disaffected European youth are able to cross into Islamic State territory from Turkey and join the jihad.
Turkey insists it is taking steps to stop the flow of recruits to the Islamic State. But visits by a McClatchy reporter to Akcakale and three nearby villages found that a foreigner can easily cross into Syria. Smugglers’ fees are a pittance, as little as $30, and daylight crossings are common. Official efforts to discourage crossings to Syria appeared non-existent. [Continue reading…]
The Guardian: Iranian authorities have shut down a newspaper and suspended its licence after it published a front page depicting George Clooney at the Golden Globes alongside the headline “I am Charlie, too”.
A media court in Tehran ordered the reformist daily Mardom-e-Emrooz, which was in its first month of publication, to be closed down at the weekend because it had shown solidarity with the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo following the deadly shootings at its offices.
Iran’s press watchdog, which operates under the country’s culture ministry and Islamic guidance, also suspended the newspaper’s licence on Monday, confirming its closure was due to the publication of the headline as well as Clooney’s picture showing him wearing a “Je Suis Charlie” badge, according to the state news agency Irna.
The New York Times reports: The arrests came quickly after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. There was the Muslim man suspected of making anti-American statements. The Middle Eastern grocer, whose shop, a tipster said, had more clerks than it needed. Soon hundreds of men, mostly Muslims, were in American jails on immigration charges, suspected of being involved in the attacks.
They were not.
After shootings last week at a satirical newspaper and a kosher market in Paris, France finds itself grappling anew with a question the United States is still confronting: how to fight terrorism while protecting civil liberties. The answer is acute in a country that is sharply critical of American counterterrorism policies, which many see as a fearful overreaction to 9/11. Already in Europe, counterterrorism officials have arrested dozens of people, and France is mulling tough new antiterrorism laws.
Many European countries, and France in particular, already have robust counterterrorism laws, some of which American authorities have studied as possible models. But the terrorist rampage at the Charlie Hebdo newspaper offices and the Hyper Cacher market prompted calls to go even further. Valérie Pécresse, a minister under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, said France needed its own version of the USA Patriot Act, which gave the United States more authority to collect intelligence and pointed America’s surveillance apparatus at its citizens.
Politicians and civil rights advocates on both sides of the Atlantic bristled at that suggestion, and at a string of arrests in which French officials used a new antiterrorism law to crack down on what previously would have been considered free speech. One man was sentenced to six months in prison for shouting support for the Charlie Hebdo attackers. Up to 100 others are under investigation for remarks that support or tried to justify terrorism, authorities said.
Dominique de Villepin, the former French prime minister, warned against the urge for “exceptional” measures. “The spiral of suspicion created in the United States by the Patriot Act and the enduring legitimization of torture or illegal detention has today caused that country to lose its moral compass,” he wrote in Le Monde, the French newspaper. [Continue reading…]