French hostage in Algeria is beheaded in new video

The New York Times reports: A French tourist captured in North Africa by a group aligned with the Islamic State is seen beheaded in a video circulated on Wednesday, according to SITE Intelligence, which tracks jihadist groups.

The Frenchman — Hervé Gourdel, a 55-year-old mountaineering guide from Nice — was abducted in Algeria on Sunday by the terrorist group, known as Jund al-Khilafah. Mr. Gourdel had arrived only a day before on a trip to go hiking in Algeria’s northern mountains.

The terrorist group issued a statement after his abduction, saying that it was following the guidance of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, which has seized large parts of Syria and Iraq and has called on its sympathizers to strike Westerners — especially the French — wherever they can. [Continue reading...]

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Paris wants Iran to help crush ISIS

The Associated Press reports: France is prepared to invite Iran to an international conference Monday aimed at coordinating actions to knock out the Islamic State extremists in Iraq — even though that runs counter to the U.S. refusal to deal with Tehran.

The position reflects a recent shift in France’s policy toward Iran, a Shiite Muslim nation and neighbor of Iraq that joins regional states and the West in adamantly opposing the advance of the radicals. Tehran’s long-time influence in Sunni Iraq, including at times a military presence, makes it a logical partner in France’s eyes.

A French official helping plan the conference says the only hitch is agreeing with partners, but added “we are not far from a consensus.” The official, who was not authorized to be publicly named, didn’t elaborate. [Continue reading...]

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French jihadist, alleged ISIS torturer, ‘looking for a destiny of his own’

Nicolas Henin, a French journalist who was released in April after being held hostage in Syria by ISIS, has identified Mehdi Nemmouche, who is also French, as one of his captors. Henin says that over a period of several months he was repeatedly tortured and beaten by Nemmouche.

In July, Nemmouche was charged with murder following the killing of four people at the Jewish Museum of Belgium, in Brussels, on May 24.

The case of Nemmouche raises concerns in at least two ways: firstly, because he is viewed as a fear come true by those who warn of the risk posed to the West by European passport holders returning from the war in Syria who, having been trained by ISIS, may bring their jihad home. Secondly, his violence is being linked to the rise of antisemitism across Europe, particularly in France.

Henin’s perspective on Nemmouche is interesting because unlike terrorism experts who maintain much more distance from their subjects, the French journalist got to know this individual in a much more intimate way: as his torturer.

It would be easy to conclude that the nature of this relationship would make it impossible for Henin to be objective. Maybe so. But I think it’s just as likely that a victim of torture would feel driven to try and understand the mind of his persecutor — especially when they were in the unusual situation of sharing the same first language.

For this reason, I find Henin’s brief psychological profile of Nemmouche particularly interesting.

Henin observed that Nemmouche “came to Syria not because he wanted to fight for a specific cause but because he was looking for a destiny of his own.”

The term “radicalization” appears in the media a lot these days and it conjures up images of empty vessels — young men susceptible to being radicalized.

While that might accurately describe the hapless path that leads some into jihad, there are others — and who’s to say which are more numerous — for whom jihad simply becomes the vehicle for a destiny they were already pursuing.

My hunch is that it is the latter kind of jihadist for whom ISIS has the greatest appeal — that they are pursuing destinies of their own for which they have been provided an ideological vehicle which legitimizes and articulates their visceral drives.

France has about 70,000 prisoners, 60-70% of whom are Muslim. However prevalent the radicalization of Muslim prisoners has become, only a small minority become jihadists. Given that only 5-10% of the French population is Muslim, France’s larger concern should be that so many Muslims are being thrown in jail.

The French journalist Marc Weitzmann recounts how one prisoner describes the system.

Karim Mokhtari, who was sentenced to 10 years in the mid-1990s after he tried to rob a drug trafficker and accidentally killed him with a shotgun, reveals in his book Redemption how easy it is to be approached by Islamists there. “In prison,” he told me, “there are two things you catch as soon as you get there. One is how lonely you are, and the other is how lonely you don’t want to be. So you look in the courtyard and you ask yourself, to which group do I belong? There are the junkies, there are the dealers, there are the rapists, and so forth. And there are the religious. Cleaner than the rest, they also seem to suffer less, they take care of each other. I watched them for a week, then the improvised Imam came to me to ask if I were a Muslim and I said no, not yet, and he introduced me to someone freshly converted — a European — who taught me the first rudiments of Arabic, the first prayers and rituals. And it went on from there.”

After the conversion rate started to turn the group into a force of some sort, the administration decided out of precaution to dismantle the religious group: The imam was transferred. He came to Mokhtari’s cell, as Mokhtari told me: “ ‘Listen’ he said, ‘I’m being transferred and I must leave. But you, your mission as a Muslim is to kill. Kill miscreants anywhere you find them. You need to keep in touch for that even when you’re out so do it. And if you need military training, we have places for that too.’ ”

“That’s when I realized what I was going into,” Mokhtari said. He was the son of a violent mixed marriage, and his French mother got divorced and remarried to a racist Frenchman who lived on welfare and off robbery. … Mokhtari started to get regularly beaten by the man, who also woke him up at 4.a.m. on Saturday nights to take him along with him on his robberies of villas and apartments while Karim kept watch. But despite an incomparably more violent background than Nemmouche endured, Karim Mokhtari never turned to terrorism.

In the following film, Mokhtari describes his own redemption.

Destiny is a dangerous and intoxicating idea. It empowers the individual by allowing him to shed doubt.

Where there is no internal struggle, conviction easily translates into action. Those pursuing their destiny, swiftly move forward, while those unsure of their destiny, are more inclined to waver, aware of their capacity to make mistakes. Destiny is dangerous both subjectively and objectively.

If we believe some individuals are destined to become to become terrorists, we’re also likely to view them as irredeemable.

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More opposition to ISIS among Gazans than Europeans

Max Fisher writes: 85 percent of polled Gazans said they oppose ISIS. That’s awfully high, especially considering that Europeans were much less likely to say they held an unfavorable view of the group:

Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been arguing that ISIS is indistinguishable from Hamas, the Palestinian group that rules Gaza (he is wrong for a number of reasons), it turns out that at least Palestinians in Gaza see a strong distinction. While the Gaza poll did not ask for Hamas approval/disapproval, it did return favorable-sounding results on two questions: “Was the Palestinian resistance prepared for this aggression [by Israel against Gaza],” to which 58 percent said yes; and “do you support disarming the Palestinian resistance,” to which 93 percent said no and 3 percent said yes.

Again, Gazans and Europeans were asked slightly different questions by different polling agencies, but it is still awfully striking that more Gazans gave the anti-ISIS response than did Western Europeans.

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Western powers temporarily abandon democracy-building efforts in Libya

The Washington Post reports: Three years after Western powers helped Libyan rebels overthrow dictator Moammar Gaddafi, they have at least temporarily abandoned efforts on the ground to bolster Libya’s foundering democracy.

On Wednesday, France evacuated its embassy in Tripoli, where warring militias have traded rocket and artillery fire over the past two weeks in the worst violence in the capital since Gaddafi’s ouster. French ships moved diplomats and French and other European citizens across the Mediterranean to Toulon, just days after U.S. diplomats left by road for Tunisia and then traveled to Malta, where they have set up an embassy-in-absentia.

Although Britain has not formally suspended operations at its Tripoli mission, it has removed all but essential personnel and advised all citizens to leave the country. [Continue reading...]

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Jewish businesses in Paris are being looted and destroyed by protesters over Israel Gaza offensive

AFP reports: France’s interior minister Monday slammed “intolerable” acts of anti-Semitism after a rally against Israel’s Gaza offensive descended into violence pitting an angry pro-Palestinian crowd against local Jewish businesses.

Sunday’s demonstration in the north Paris suburb of Sarcelles was the third to deteriorate in a week, as shops were looted and riot police lobbed tear gas and rubber bullets at the crowd.

The rally had been banned amid concern the Jewish community would be targeted after protesters last weekend tried to storm two synagogues in Paris.

“When you head for the synagogue, when you burn a corner shop because it is Jewish-owned, you are committing an anti-Semitic act,” Bernard Cazeneuve told reporters outside the Sarcelles synagogue.

In the Paris suburb sometimes nicknamed “little Jerusalem” for its large community of Sephardic Jews, the rally descended into chaos when dozens of youth — some masked — set fire to bins and lit firecrackers and smoke bombs.

Eighteen people were arrested after looters wrecked shops, including a kosher foodstore and a funeral home as protesters shouted: “Fuck Israel!”. [Continue reading...]

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London: Massive protest against Israel’s assault on Gaza; protesters in Paris defy ban

Reuters reports: Pro-Palestinian protesters clashed with police in Paris on Saturday as they defied a ban on a planned rally against violence in the Gaza strip.

A Reuters photographer said demonstrators in northern Paris launched projectiles at riot police, who responded by firing teargas canisters and stun grenades. Demonstrators also climbed on top of a building and burned an Israeli flag.

President Francois Hollande earlier said he had asked his interior minister to ban protests that could turn violent after demonstrators marched on two synagogues in Paris last weekend and clashed with riot police.

“That’s why I asked the interior minister, after an investigation, to ensure that such protests would not take place,” he told journalists during a visit to Chad.

In defiance of the ban, large crowds gathered in northern Paris chanting “Israel, assassin” until they were dispersed by tear gas.

Peaceful rallies were also held in more than a dozen other cities, from Lille in the north to Marseille in the South.

“This ban on demonstrations, which was decided at the last minute, actually increases the risk of public disorder,” the Greens Party said in a statement. “It’s a first in Europe.” [Continue reading...]

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The rise of Europe’s anti-EU nationalists

Following elections in France and the rest of the EU, Roger Cohen writes: Make no mistake, [National Front leader Marine Le Pen] could become president. The National Front has surged before, notably in 2002 when Jean-Marie Le Pen, the incumbent’s father, reached the runoff stage of the presidential election. But in the dozen years since then the European and French crises have deepened. France has near zero growth and growing unemployment. With an estimated 25 percent of the European Parliament vote, the National Front crushed both the governing Socialists (14 percent) and the center-right Union for a Popular Movement (20.8 percent).

“An earthquake,” was the verdict of the Socialist prime minister, Manuel Valls. He is not wrong. A two-party system is now a three-party system. Marine Le Pen, subtler and cleverer and more ambitious than her father, is electable. She is plausible.

Elsewhere on the Continent the anger behind the National Front’s surge was also evident (no election is better suited for letting off steam than the European because the real power of the European Parliament is limited). In Britain, Austria and Denmark, more than 15 percent of the vote went to similar anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, anti-establishment, anti-boredom political movements. But it is in France, which constitutes with Germany the core of the European Union, that a European, economic and psychological crisis has assumed its most acute form.

According to the French daily Le Monde, the National Front took 43 percent of workers’ votes and 37 percent of the vote of the unemployed. Popular sentiment in France has turned against a Europe associated with austerity, stagnation, unemployment and high immigration. Le Pen’s promise of a more nationalist and anti-immigrant France, rejecting European integration and America, has appeal to the disenchanted. A promised Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis, with Putin and his “family values” as Europe’s salvation, masks a void of economic ideas. [Continue reading...]

Martin Kettle writes: Britain likes to think that it marches to a different political drum from the rest of Europe. Yet the 2014 European parliament election has generated a great political paradox. In these elections, British voters flocked in record numbers to the anti-Europe flagship party Ukip. And yet, as they voted against Europe, British voters have never seemed more part of the European mainstream than they do this morning. Across Europe, in one way or another, voters in most countries did very much the same thing.

The European Union has never confronted a crisis of legitimacy like the one that erupted in the polling booths of Europe this weekend. From Aberdeen to Athens and from Lisbon to Leipzig, and irrespective of whether the nation is in or out of the eurozone, the 2014 European elections were an uncoordinated but common revolt against national governments and a revolt against the post-crash priorities of the European project.

This election wasn’t a revolt of Britain against the EU. It was a revolt of European voters against the EU and against national governing parties. And British voters were simply one part of it. [Continue reading...]

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France broadens its surveillance power

The New York Times reports: For all their indignation last summer, when the scope of the United States’ mass data collection began to be made public, the French are hardly innocents in the realm of electronic surveillance. Within days of the reports about the National Security Agency’s activities, it was revealed that French intelligence services operated a similar system, with similarly minimal oversight.

And last week, with little public debate, the legislature approved a law that critics feared would markedly expand electronic surveillance of French residents and businesses.

The provision, quietly passed as part of a routine military spending bill, defines the conditions under which intelligence agencies may gain access to or record telephone conversations, emails, Internet activity, personal location data and other electronic communications.

The law provides for no judicial oversight and allows electronic surveillance for a broad range of purposes, including “national security,” the protection of France’s “scientific and economic potential” and prevention of “terrorism” or “criminality.”

In an unusual alliance, Internet and corporate groups, human rights organizations and a small number of lawmakers have opposed the law as a threat to business or an encroachment on individual rights. [Continue reading...]

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Strains with Israel over Iran snarl U.S. goals in Mideast

Hollande recoils slightly from Netanyahu's suffocating embrace.

Hollande recoils slightly from Netanyahu's suffocating embrace.

The Wall Street Journal reports: The Obama administration’s overtures to Iran are straining the U.S. alliance with Israel in ways not seen in decades, compounding concerns about the White House’s ability to manage the Middle East’s proliferating security crises, said current and former American diplomats.

In a sign of Israel’s growing disaffection with Washington, French President François Hollande was given a hero’s welcome when he arrived in Tel Aviv on Sunday for a three-day visit that would showcase Paris’s hard line against Iran’s nuclear program ahead of international talks in Geneva this week.

Mr. Netanyahu reiterated his criticism that the U.S.-backed compromise was a “very bad deal” while hailing Mr. Hollande for his opposition to the agreement at a joint news conference Sunday evening in Jerusalem.

“Your support and your friendship is real. It’s sincere. You were one out of six,” he said, referring to the six world powers participating in talks with Iran.

Both the U.S. and Israel insist the relationship is strong enough to sustain even a pronounced disagreement. But the State Department said on Sunday that it was considering sending Secretary of State John Kerry back to Jerusalem for the second time this month to try and repair the breach with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. [Continue reading...]

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Video: Trita Parsi on Colbert Report

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Iran: don’t let the naysayers prevail

Jonathan Steele writes: France’s scuppering of the carefully negotiated interim nuclear deal between Iran and the world powers was reckless but not unexpected. As a brazen affront to the Obama administration’s desire to mend relations with Tehran after 35 years it needs to be linked to Saudi Arabia’s recent and similarly abrupt repudiation of US policy on Syria. A historic shift is under way in US strategy towards the Middle East. After decades of isolating or overthrowing regimes that profess independence, Washington has decided that its long-term interests are better served by stability than subversion.

The shift has been caused by several factors: the unforeseen popular uprisings which led to the Arab spring and are still bringing unpredictable consequences; the incomplete revolt in Syria which has led to a multiplication of al-Qaida and other jihadis rather than the fall of Bashar al-Assad; the increasing chaos in Iraq which ought to be a warning to the Gulf of the dangers of letting Sunni versus Shia tensions rip; and finally Washington’s declining need for the region’s oil.

Confused and not forewarned by their American ally, France, Israel and Saudi Arabia are lashing out in wild and undiplomatic terms. [Continue reading...]

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Iran’s FM challenges Kerry’s claim on P5+1 unity

Robert Mackey writes: As my colleague Mark Landler reports, Secretary of State John Kerry insisted on Monday that it was unfair to blame last-minute objections from his French counterpart, Laurent Fabius, for scuttling a potential deal with Iran over its nuclear energy program last weekend in Geneva. “The French signed off on it, we signed off on it,” Mr. Kerry said of the final proposal presented to Iran’s negotiating team. “There was unity, but Iran couldn’t take it.”

Shortly after these remarks were reported, Iran’s chief negotiator, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, pushed back on Twitter, claiming that the draft proposal from the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, known as the P5+1, changed drastically after the French intervention on Saturday, as the Guardian diplomatic correspondent Julian Borger reported.


Since Mr. Zarif did not mention Mr. Kerry’s name or Twitter handle in that message, it fell into a category of gibe known as a subtweet on the social network, which is the rough equivalent of talking behind someone’s back, but doing so in such a loud stage whisper that you expect them to hear the criticism.

Just to make sure that his message was heard, however, Mr. Zarif addressed the secretary of state by title in a follow-up missive, in which he also appeared to complain about public comments from Mr. Fabius disparaging an early draft of the deal as “a fool’s bargain.”


The minister, who says that he enjoys reading comments posted on his Persian-language Facebook page, ended his brief flurry of Twitter diplomacy on Monday on a more positive note.
[Continue reading...]

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Why France is to blame for blocking the Iran nuclear agreement

Christopher Dickey writes: Those who follow closely the machinations of the Quai d’Orsay (as the French foreign ministry is called) see French perversity as just one part of the picture, along with some fundamental shifts in the government’s attitudes toward the Middle East.

“Of course if you are a French politician, there is always some benefit when you pee on the shoes of the Americans,” says journalist Gilles Delafon, author of Reign of Contempt, an up-close look at French diplomacy under the presidency of Nicolas Sarkozy from 2007-2012. “There is also the fact that President Hollande is going to visit Israel this month.”

Indeed. The reasons French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius gave for dashing the high hopes for a deal with Iran in Geneva echoed in substance the bitter attacks on the negotiating process leveled earlier in the week by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. Hollande certainly will get a warmer reception by the Likud and its allies as a result.

Syria has been a complicating factor. It’s now well known that the Israelis and Saudis were appalled when President Obama first threatened to bomb the military installations of the Assad regime to punish it for using chemical weapons, then reversed course, pleaded for the approval of Congress and accepted a Russian-brokered diplomatic deal to eliminate Assad’s poison-gas arsenal.

But it was French President Hollande who really got left out on a limb. When no other country agreed to back Obama’s attack plan, Hollande committed himself not only to give political support, but also to participate in the operation. According to the French press, some French warplanes were already on their way to the skies over Syria when Hollande got word the attack had been called off.

Hollande has the lowest approval ratings of any president in modern French history, and that little humiliation at Obama’s hands did him no good at all.

But there is also a deeper current of hostility to Obama’s penchant for peacemaking. [Continue reading...]

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Iran nuclear deal remains elusive as split emerges in Western camp

Reuters reports: France warned of serious stumbling blocks to a long-sought accord with Iran as unity among Western powers seemed to fray in talks on getting Tehran to curtail a nuclear program seen as a bomb risk in exchange for relief from economic sanctions.

Iranian media quoted the Islamic Republic’s deputy foreign minister, Abbas Araqchi, as saying “the issues are serious and there is still a gap in stances”, and that the talks would probably end later in the day and be resumed at a later date.

As discussions stretched on, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was doubtful whether they would soon succeed in nailing down an interim deal that would begin to defuse fears of a stealthy Iranian advance towards nuclear arms capability.

“As I speak to you, I cannot say there is any certainty that we can conclude,” Fabius said on France Inter radio, stressing that Paris could not accept a “sucker’s deal”.

His pointed remarks hinted at a rift brewing within the Western camp. A Western diplomat close to the negotiations said the French were trying to upstage the other powers.

“The Americans, the EU and the Iranians have been working intensively together for months on this proposal, and this is nothing more than an attempt by Fabius to insert himself into relevance late in the negotiations,” the diplomat told Reuters, speaking on the condition of anonymity. [Continue reading...]

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NSA hinted Israel was behind cyberattack on French president

AFP reports: France believed the United States attempted to hack into its president’s communications network, a leaked US intelligence document published on Friday suggests.

US agents denied having anything to do with a May 2012 cyber attack on the Elysee Palace, the official residence of French presidents, and appeared to hint at the possible involvement of Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, a classified internal note from the US National Security Agency suggests.

Extracts from the document, the latest to emerge from the NSA via former contractor Edward Snowden, were published by Le Monde newspaper alongside an article jointly authored by Glenn Greenwald, the US journalist who has been principally responsible for a still-unravelling scandal over large-scale US snooping on individuals and political leaders all over the world.

The document is a briefing note prepared in April this year for NSA officials who were due to meet two senior figures from France’s external intelligence agency, the DGSE. The French agents had travelled to Washington to demand explanations over their discovery in May 2012 of attempts to compromise the Elysee’s communications systems.

The note says that the branch of the NSA which handles cyber attacks, Tailored Access Operations (TAO), had confirmed that it had not carried out the attack and says that most of its closest allies (Australia, Britain, Canada and New Zealand) had also denied involvement.

It goes on to note: “TAO intentionally did not ask either Mossad or (Israel’s cyber intelligence unit) ISNU whether they were involved as France is not an approved target for joint discussions.” [Continue reading...]

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The NSA is undermining the fight against terrorism

The Guardian reports: Germany and France are to spearhead a drive to try to force the Americans to agree new transatlantic rules on intelligence and security service behaviour in the wake of the Snowden revelations and allegations of mass US spying in France and tapping of the German chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone.

At an EU summit in Brussels that was hijacked by the furore over the activities of the National Security Agency in the US and Britain’s GCHQ, the French president, François Hollande, also called for a new code of conduct agreed between national intelligence services in the EU, raising the question of whether Britain would opt to join in.

Shaken by this week’s revelations of NSA operations in France and Germany, EU leaders and Merkel in particular warned that the international fight against terrorism was being jeopardised by the perception that mass US surveillance was out of control.

The leaders “stressed that intelligence-gathering is a vital element in the fight against terrorism”, a summit statement said. “A lack of trust could prejudice the necessary co-operation in the field of intelligence-gathering.”

Merkel drove the point home: “We need trust among allies and partners. Such trust now has to be built anew … The United States of America and Europe face common challenges. We are allies. But such an alliance can only be built on trust.” [Continue reading...]

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Snowden leaks: France summons U.S. envoy over NSA surveillance claims

The Guardian reports: The French government has summoned the US ambassador in Paris, demanding an explanation about claims that the National Security Agency has been engaged in widespread phone surveillance of French citizens.

On Monday, Le Monde published details from the NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden suggesting that the US agency had been intercepting phone calls on what it terms “a massive scale”.

The French foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, warned: “This sort of practice between partners that invades privacy is totally unacceptable and we have to make sure, very quickly, that this no longer happens.”

His summoning of the ambassador for urgent talks came as the US secretary of state, John Kerry, arrived in the French capital for the start of a European tour focused on discussions over the Middle East and Syria, and keen to stress close military and intelligence ties with Paris, which he recently called America’s “oldest ally”.

The French interior minister, Manuel Valls, described the revelations as shocking and said he would be pressing for detailed explanations from Washington.

“Rules are obviously needed when it comes to new communication technologies, and that’s something that concerns every country,” he told Europe-1 radio. “If a friendly country – an ally – spies on France or other European countries, that is completely unacceptable.”

The report in Le Monde, which carries the byline of the outgoing Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who worked with Snowden to lay bare the extent of the NSA’s actions, claims that between 10 December 2012 and 8 January 2013 the NSA recorded 70.3m phone calls in France. [Continue reading...]

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