Muslims mourn in solidarity with Catholics across France after priest’s murder

BBC News reports: Muslims across France have attended Catholic Mass in a gesture of solidarity after the murder of a priest on Tuesday.

Fr Jacques Hamel was killed in his church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray near Rouen by two men who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

France’s Muslim council, the CFCM, urged Muslims to show “solidarity and compassion” over the murder.

“We are all Catholics of France,” said Anouar Kbibech, the head of the CFCM. [Continue reading…]


French media explores ways of reducing ‘hero effect’ in its reporting on attacks

The Associated Press reports: Some leading French media outlets pledged Wednesday to stop publishing the names and images of attackers linked to the Islamic State group to prevent individuals from being inadvertently glorified, following a spate of attacks in France over the past 18 months.

The decisions, part of a wider French debate about how the news media might be contributing to the extremist threat, come as the French parliament debates whether to enshrine in law restrictions on the way the news media can cover “terrorist acts.”

The director of Le Monde, Jerome Fenoglio, said in an editorial that his newspaper would stop publishing photographs of attackers in a bid to prevent the “possible posthumous glorifying effects” and called for news media to exercise more responsibility. The newspaper already has a ban on publishing extracts of Islamic State propaganda or claims of responsibility emitted from IS’s media wing. [Continue reading…]


Jacques Hamel, 85, a beloved French priest, killed in his church

The New York Times reports: Like many people who enjoy their work, the Rev. Jacques Hamel did not want to stop. At 85, he was well past retirement age, but he kept in shape and kept on going — baptizing infants, celebrating Mass and tending to parishioners in St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray, the working-class town in Normandy where he had spent much of his life.

“He could have retired at 75 years old, but seeing how few priests were around he decided to stay and work, to continue to be of service to people, up until it all ended, tragically,” the Rev. Auguste Moanda-Phuati, the parish priest of the Église St.-Étienne, where Father Hamel worked as an auxiliary priest, said in a phone interview. “He was loved by all. He was a little like a grandfather. We were happy when he was around and worried when we hadn’t seen him in a while.”

Father Hamel was celebrating Mass on Tuesday morning when two men with knives entered the small church and slit his throat, an attack that horrified people across France and the world. The Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that the two assailants — who were shot dead by the police — were “soldiers” retaliating against the United States-led coalition fighting the group in Iraq and Syria. [Continue reading…]

The Age reports: On Tuesday, [Adel] Kermiche was identified by prosecutors as one of the young men who slit the throat of a Catholic priest during mass in a church in northern France. He was shot dead by police with an accomplice after they entered the Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray church near Rouen on Tuesday morning, cut the priest’s throat and seriously injured another parishioner.

Kermiche was a local teenager, born in 1997, who had tried to join IS in Syria, Paris prosecutor Francois Molins said – though he failed in two attempts and instead served jail time in France.

His mother, a teacher, told the Tribune de Geneve in 2015 that the Charlie Hebdo attacks of January 2015 had “acted as a detonator” on a teen who had been cheerful, kind, sociable, music-loving and a regular mosque-goer.

“He said we could not practise our religion in peace in France,” she said. “He was speaking with words that did not belong to him. He was bewitched, like he was in a cult.” [Continue reading…]


Attacker in Nice had support of several people, French prosecutors say

The Wall Street Journal reports: The man who killed 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day had the support of several people and appeared to have been plotting his attack since last year, French prosecutors said Thursday.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said he asked a judge to place five people under investigation on preliminary terrorism charges. The five are in police custody.

“The investigation has not only provided more confirmation of the premeditation of the murderous attack of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, but also establish that he had support and complicity in preparation of his criminal act,” Mr. Molins said.

Meanwhile, antiterror police conducted raids in a Paris suburb on Thursday, police officers said, as France attempts to sweep up weapons and people suspected of links to terrorism networks after the July 14 attack in Nice.

Police locked down a neighborhood in Argenteuil, a suburb 7 miles northwest of Paris, as they raided three sites, searching for weapons and explosives, one police officer said. Around 20 people were detained in the raids, another said. [Continue reading…]


Jihad and the French exception

Farhad Khosrokhavar writes: Whether Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed more than 80 people during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, was an agent of the Islamic State or an unhinged loner who borrowed the group’s jihadist symbols, the slaughter raises the same fundamental question: Why do so many more attacks of this magnitude occur in France than in other European countries?

Belgium has also been hit recently, but less often. In Britain and Spain no terrorist attack has killed more than 10 people in over a decade. In Germany, there hasn’t been a major attack at all.

Failures in the French security and intelligence services cannot account for the difference, because communication problems afflict such services throughout Europe. The answer lies elsewhere: When it comes to jihad, too, there is a French exception.

France’s distinctiveness arises in part from the ideological strength of the idea the nation has had of itself since the French Revolution, including an assertive form of republicanism and an open distrust of all religions, beginning, historically, with Catholicism. This model has been knocked around over the years, first by decolonization, then by decades of economic hardship, the growing stigmatization of cultural differences, the fervent individualism of new generations and globalization, which has narrowed the state’s room for maneuver.

Above all, France hasn’t been able to solve the problem of economic and social exclusion. Its system, which is too protective of those people who have jobs and not open enough to those who don’t, breeds angst all around. Young people in the banlieues, marginalized and with few prospects, feel like victims. They become prime targets for jihadist propaganda, often after a stint in prison for petty crimes. [Continue reading…]


Nice attacker had fascination with extreme violence

The Wall Street Journal reports: The man who killed 84 people in Nice was a violent drinker and drug taker with an “unbridled sex life” who developed a fascination with Islamic State and other terrorist propaganda, prosecutors said as they deepened their probe into whether a broader network fostered his radicalization.

François Molins, the chief Paris prosecutor overseeing the investigation into the Bastille Day attack, said Monday that police haven’t found any evidence that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel explicitly pledged allegiance to Islamic State or had links to any people associated with the Sunni Muslim militant group.

However, the prosecutor painted a picture of a man who underwent a rapid transformation in the weeks leading up the massacre and became suddenly enthralled with extremist messages and ultra-violent images.

Data recovered from Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s computer included pictures of militants draped in Islamic State flags and corpses as well as photos of Osama bin Laden and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of an al Qaeda-aligned group called Murabitun. His computer also turned up searches for “horrible car accidents” and “shock videos,” Mr. Molins said. [Continue reading…]


Police and academics search Nice attacker’s history for a motive

Jason Burke writes: Lahouaiej-Bouhlel certainly matches the classic profile of French violent Islamic extremist in many ways – though he is a relatively recent arrival rather than born in the country of immigrant parents, as is more usually the case. He was a young, male petty criminal. He was also not devout, all witnesses so far agree. He did not fast during Ramadan, ate pork, drank, and was never seen at any local mosque.

This lack of piety among militants may seem confusing. It is, however, the rule rather than the exception. It was true of the dozen or so French and Belgian young men involved in bombings and shootings earlier this year, and of Mohammed Merah, who committed the first major attack in France in 2012. Other examples beyond France include that of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 in a Florida nightclub last month.

This apparent paradox has prompted a keen debate among experts. The argument has major policy implications. In France, it has been bitter. Olivier Roy, a well-known French scholar currently at the University of Europe in Florence, suggests those drawn into violent activism are already “in nihilist, generational revolt”. This is why so many are criminals, or marginal. Extremist Islam gives them a cause and frames anger and alienation in the way extremist leftwing ideologies did for some in the 1960s and 1970s. The new militants are thus not victims of “brainwashing” by cynical and fanatical recruiters. This is the Islamisation of radicalism, Roy says, not the radicalisation of Islam.

Many disagree. Some say Roy naively ignores the impact of intolerant and reactionary doctrines on Muslim communities in the west. Others suggest he underestimates the historical impact of western colonialism as well as that of more recent western policies in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]


Nice attacker was radicalised within months and sent £84,000 to his Tunisian family days before attack

The Telegraph reports: he terrorist behind the Bastille Day atrocity was radicalised within months and sent his Tunisian family £84,000 just days before the massacre, it was claimed on Saturday.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s brother in Tunisia described receiving the fortune in cash as police swooped to arrest five suspected associates across the city of Nice

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said the attacker “appears to have become radicalised very quickly” as one neighbour of his estranged wife added: “Mohamed only started visiting a mosque in April.”

Investigators examining Bouhlel’s phone records found evidence that he was in contact with known Islamic radicals.

However, an intelligence source cautioned: “That could just be a coincidence, given the neighbourhood where he lived. Everyone knows everyone there. He seems to have known people who knew Omar Diaby (a known local Islamist believed to be linked with the Al Nusra group close to Al Qaeda).”

Relatives have reportedly claimed Bouhlel, in the days before the attack, persuaded friends to smuggle the bundles of cash back to his family in their hometown of Msaken, Tunisia.

His brother Jaber also said he had not seen his brother for several years and the money had come as a complete surprise. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The Tunisian delivery driver who killed 84 people on Thursday when he drove a truck at high-speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in Nice sent a text message just before the attack about his supply of weapons.

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, wrote of his “satisfaction at having obtained a 7.65mm pistol” and discussed “the supply of other weapons,” a police source confirmed to AFP. Two replica assault rifles and a dummy grenade were also found in the truck.

It also emerged that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel took pictures of himself at the wheel of the truck before the fatal attack, and shared them by text message. Over 200 investigators are working on identifying the recipients of the messages. [Continue reading…]


How ISIS is getting beaten at home — and taking terror abroad

Mark Perry writes: Just 24 hours after a Tunisian-born French citizen killed more than 80 people in Nice, President Obama is coming under fire from critics for “fiddling around” against the Islamic State, as former CIA Director James Woolsey said on Thursday night on MSNBC. While it isn’t yet clear whether the Nice attack was ISIS-ordered or inspired, Woolsey questioned Obama’s commitment to destroying the jihadist group, saying “we haven’t taken the gloves off.”

In fact, according to several senior serving and retired military officers, Woolsey has it wrong. “ISIS is reeling and their fighters are fleeing the battlefield,” a senior officer of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), told me last week. “We don’t have a victory yet, but we’re winning and it’s not even close. The campaign is absolutely relentless, very violent. We’re killing a lot of their people. That’s a fact, and it’s undeniable.” In recent weeks Iraqi forces have taken back the city of Fallujah and regained control of key positions near the city of Mosul.

Unfortunately, this same officer says, the success of the anti-ISIS, U.S.-led air campaign is having some unintended, but predictable, consequences. One of them is the increasing vulnerability of European countries, particularly those (like France) that are participants in the air campaign. [Continue reading…]


Who was Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the French-Tunisian suspect behind the Nice attack?



Why does France keep getting attacked?

Jason Burke writes: So once again, there will be the tricolour flag projected on buildings around the world, a hashtag expressing solidarity with France, and declarations of sympathy.

There will also be the question: why is France suffering a wave of extremist violence that is more intense – certainly more lethal – than any other seen in the west since the 9/11 attacks almost 15 years ago?

Though it is still unclear if the driver of the truck in Nice was linked to any broader network or organisation – prosecutors on Friday said only that his actions were in line with an Isis call to action – his attack is a grim reminder of the bloodshed on Paris just months ago.

One reason that France is a particular target is down to a specific decision by Islamic State to target it. In September 2014, shortly after the beginning of airstrikes by a US-led coalition which includes France, the chief spokesman for Isis, Mohammad al-Adnani, singled out the “spiteful French” among a list of enemies in a speech calling for the group’s sympathisers to launch attacks across the west.

Undoubtedly, the role France has historically assumed as standard bearer of western secular liberalism has also put the nation in the spotlight. Islamic extremists may see the US as a source of moral decadence and economic exploitation, but France is seen as an atheist power which is both defending western ideals such as human rights, free speech and democracy and, in the eyes of jihadis, trying to impose them on the Islamic world.

We know from interrogations of Isis returnees that the group started planning strikes in France even before it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul and declared a caliphate in 2014. [Continue reading…]


After invoking Article 50, UK could still rescind notice to withdraw from EU, say French legal sources

The Guardian reports: [At a] hearing of the Treasury select committee, leading constitutional lawyers revealed that the French government legal service has informed the French government that the UK would be entitled to rescind a notice to withdraw even though it had invoked article 50.

Such flexibility would mean that even if it was triggered, the UK could reverse a decision to withdraw, if either parliament or a second referendum endorsed the step.

Michael Dougan, professor of European law at Liverpool University, also pointed out that any UK application to join Norway as a signatory to the European economic area (EEA) agreement – a means of maintaining access to the EU single market – could be vetoed by any single one of the remaining 27 EU member states, the four members of the European free trade area (Efta) and the European parliament, meaning 31 different institutions or states could block the UK signing the EEA.

The EEA is seen by some as the best stopping off point for the UK, since it retains UK access to the EU single market, but all EEA members are required to apply the principle of the free movement of people. [Continue reading…]