British grandfather leaves family and dachsunds to join militants fighting Isil in Iraq

A British granddad has left his family to join militants fighting Isil on the frontline in Iraq claiming he could no longer sit back and do nothing.

Despite having no military experience, Jim Atherton, 53, of Tyne and Wear, has sold his car to buy weapons and has already come under mortar and rocket attacks.

The granddad, who before leaving for Iraq cared for rescued daschunds, said Special Branch had tried to persuade him to come home, but he believed his place was fighting jihadists. “I’m not a young bloke, I had a heart attack in 2007. But it’s something I felt I had to do. I wanted my grandkids to know what I’m really about,” he told The Sun. “Nobody seemed to be doing anything about it, so I decided that I would. “I don’t think I’m Rambo but I believe I’m a good soldier. Of course I miss my family and dogs.”

Mr Atherton said his family had been devastated by his decision to join a Christian militia called Dwekh Nawsha, which means The Sacrificers. He now belongs to a unit which protects the Christian population of Iraqi villages such as al-Qosh.

He raised the £18,000 needed for travel and guns by selling his Sierra Cosworth, two motorbikes and a boat. Mr Atherton, whose younger brother was killed fighting in Afghanistan, came across Dwekh Nawsha on the internet.

France train shooting: Americans overpower gunman, three injured

Three people have been hurt after a heavily armed man opened fire on a train in northern France, before being overpowered by two American passengers.

The incident happened on the high-speed Thalys service near Arras, and the attacker was arrested at Arras station. The interior minister praised the Americans, one of whom was seriously injured, as was another passenger.

The man arrested was a 26-year-old Moroccan. Anti-terrorist officers have taken over the case. The weapons were said to include a Kalashnikov, a knife, an automatic pistol and cartridges.

One of the two people seriously hurt had a gunshot wound, the other a knife wound. French media said the arrested man was known to the intelligence services. The suspect has so far refused to talk to police in Arras. Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said the incident was a “terrorist attack.”

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve travelled to Arras in the wake of the attack. He said: “As always where an act that could be terrorist in nature is involved, the greatest care and the greatest precision will be used.”

He praised the Americans who overpowered the suspect. Mr Cazeneuve said they were “particularly courageous and showed great bravery in very difficult circumstances,” adding: “Without their composure we could have been confronted with a terrible incident.”

French media said the passengers who overpowered the suspect were US Marines who had heard the man loading a weapon in a toilet cubicle and confronted him when he came out. Cazeneuve said the attack had taken place at 17:45 local time (15:45 GMT).

Cazeneuve said he had also met French actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, who was lightly wounded when breaking glass to sound the alarm, and other passengers. “My thoughts are with the wounded and with the passengers who are in a state of shock,” Mr Cazeneuve said.

Initial reports suggested the second person seriously hurt was a Briton, but the UK Foreign Office later said there were no reports that British nationals were hurt. Images shared on social media appeared to show a man being restrained on the station platform in Arras. One photograph showed an injured man in a blue top and jeans lying on the floor of the train.

French rail firm SNCF said there had been 554 people on board the train. “The situation is under control, the travellers are safe. The train stopped and the emergency services are on site,” the Thalys official Twitter account tweeted.

Thalys said several trains had been delayed in the wake of the attack.

France has been on edge since the attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket in Paris in January, which left 17 people dead. In June a man said to be inspired by the Islamic State group beheaded his boss and tried to blow up a gas plant in southern France.

Regionals 2015: Marion Marechal Le Pen Confounds Muslims with Islamists

Marion Marechal Le Pen, National Front candidate in the regional elections this December, has targeted an imam in Nice who she referred to as an “Islamist,” a jab that indirectly targets the city’s deputy-mayor Christian Estrosi. The young FN deputy tweeted a line from an interview conducted with the Nice imam Abdelkader Sadouni in Nice-Matin.

The mosque’s imam had publicly condemned Islamism, most recently at the beginning of August. “Through these acts, our credibility is tarnished, our intentions threatened,” he stated, before adding, “We know, Islam is a political issue. The FN is going to profit. Don’t give them the whip to be whipped.”

“With Christian Estrosi, Islamists no longer need prayers in the street to be heard in Nice,” said the imam,” the line that Le Pen tweeted.

In response, the mayor retweeted the FN candidate’s statement, adding “Muslims=Islamists? Jean-Marie Le Pen would be proud of your hateful campaign.”

Muslim mothers promote diversity at schools in France

In France, ‘la mixité’ once meant just boys and girls going to the same school. Now Muslim mothers have adopted the word in their campaign against social apartheid.

In a country that has liberty, equality and fraternity as its national motto, a banner that denounces “social apartheid” should do more than prick the collective conscience – it should sting like a scorpion.

The campaign of a group of Muslim mothers who are demanding an end to the “ghettoisation” that condemns their children to attend schools where every pupil is of immigrant origin, has, indeed, duly stung liberal French consciences.

It is a mantra of French politics that to be integrated in to society the country’s Muslim population – unofficially estimated at between five and seven million people – needs to be doing more, needs to be “more French”.

“That is exactly what we are fighting for,” says Safia, 36, a mother of three who is among the campaign leaders in the southern town of Montpellier. Like the others, she prefers to be identified only by her first name.

“We’d love it if class photographs showed fair-haired or red-headed children side by side with our children.” Montpellier is one of the most attractive cities in France, the third-largest on the Mediterranean coast after Nice and Marseille.

In opinion polls, it has frequently been voted the place people wish they could call home.

In common with all French towns and cities, it has a sizeable minority of families who have roots in the former colonies of North and Sub-Saharan Africa. As with elsewhere in France, the immigrant population in Montpellier is largely congregated in low-cost estates. The Petit Bard estate is home to more than 5,000 people, mostly of Moroccan family backgrounds.

In their bid for school inclusion, a group of Petit Bard women have staged marches, occupied several schools, created a Facebook campaign page and fired off letters to the city hall, the local education authority and one senior government figure they simply call Najat.

France’s education minister, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, is from Morocco, too. One of seven children born in the village of Bni Chiker, in the Rif region of Morocco, she is also a product of an unpromising young life in the banlieues. A builder’s daughter, she grew up in the northern city of Amiens after arriving in France aged five.

There is broad agreement in France that the country needs more success stories like hers and fewer grim accounts of disaffected young Muslims joining terrorist groups in Syria and Iraq.

The women of Petit Bard want to know how their children can hope to make something of their lives if they are confined as victims of “social apartheid”.

They are looking to Ms Vallud-Belkacem, who has been vocal on many aspects of discrimination in French society, to take a robust position in their corner and help end what amounts to segregated schooling. “No to the ghetto – yes to la mixité” reads a slogan on a banner.

It is that word, mixité, that defines the mothers’ campaign. Once it meant no more than boys and girls being educated together now it has a wider context – diversity of ethnicity in coeducation.

As recently as 20 years ago, Petit Bard’s population was a blend of Maghrebins, native French, pied-noirs (those of French origin from North Africa) and Spanish. Almost all except the Maghrebins – in particular the Moroccans – have gone, says Safia.

Accordingly, it is their children who make up entire classes of schools serving Petit Bard. The schools do their best, she adds, but “there is a complete absence of diversity”.

Marie-Françoise Camps, headmistress at the Genevievé-Bon nursery school, applauds the women’s “candour and determination” to bring diversity.

She says many pupils have poor command of French but, she adds approvingly, some are trilingual – Arabic, Berber and French.

While authorities have been vocal about dismantling barriers between communities Ms Vallaud-Belkacem has not been noticeably forthcoming in supporting the Petit Bard women.

She talks of “la mixité” in other contexts – such as after the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris when a few individual Maghrebin pupils refused to observe commemorative silences in schools.

But her ministry could not point The National to a public statement of her view of the Montpellier campaign.

In her blog she deplores local authorities dominated by the centre-right that refuse to offer an alternative to pork in school canteens but makes no mention of the issues fought by Safia and her friends.

A spokeswoman said the educational policy of sectorisation – the equivalent of catchment areas in other countries – made it difficult to move children to schools in other districts.

In 2014 in Montpellier, in line with the sectorisation policy, local authorities said that children at primary school in Petit Bard would all move to Les Cazes secondary school.

Prior to the schools being allocated by catchment area, there had been a more mixed environment. In the mothers’ eyes, the change confirmed the ghetto status.

“We suddenly realised our children would go all the way from nursery school to the end of secondary school without discovering the cultures of others or the art of different communities living together,” said another mother, Fatima.

Renaud Calvat, a councillor with responsibility for education, said that allowing parents to send their children to the secondary establishments schools of their choice would be the beginning of the end of the “republican school system”. Education department officials admit that “in an unmixed district, schools will also be unmixed”, and add that while the mothers had raised important questions, changing the fundamental approach is “not a simple matter”.

One senior official talks of the possible snag of long journeys for children who are sent to schools in other neighbourhoods and insists that the city dealt fairly with the 21,000 pupils attending 122 schools.

Yet the women of Montpellier – who insist, incidentally, their husbands are fully behind them if less vocal in the campaign – are beginning to score points. Changes are being made, albeit slowly. An apparent relaxation of sectorisation rules has meant that a dozen or more children will attend ethnically more mixed schools of their parents’ choice when France’s traditional rentrée scolaire, or start of the new academic year, arrives in early September.

“We have made a difference,” says Safia – who was one of the group of women invited to an international educational conference in Paris.

“Attitudes have changed a little but there’s a long way to go.” Safia’s children are aged between six and 10. “I hope we will achieve much more before they leave school,” she says.

France’s socialist president, François Hollande, entered office in 2012 with a range of promises about an urgent need to end racism and injustice, to make real progress on equality and diversity and ensure that “every child has its full place in society, receives an excellent education and flourishes to his or her potential”.

Asked what she would tell the president if her role in the Montpellier mothers’ campaign caused them to meet, Safia has a simple response: “That he should keep the promises he made.”

French court rules school lunches may include pork

A French court on Thursday (Aug. 13) upheld a local move to stop offering alternatives to pork in school cafeterias, sparking dismay on the part of Muslim leaders and possibly setting a precedent for municipalities elsewhere in the country.

The court found in favor of the mayor of a town in eastern France who announced in March that students would no longer be guaranteed a nonpork option at lunchtime for the coming school year.

“A first victory for secularity,” tweeted the mayor, Gilles Platret of Chalon-sur-Saone, after the court ruling.

But Abdallah Zekri, leader of the French Council of the Muslim Faith, expressed regret.

“I can only condemn this mayor’s decision, which is not taken to bring social peace to schools,” he said in a statement to the Agence France-Presse news agency. “All Muslims respect secularity. Muslims have never asked for Halal meat in school cafeterias.”

For her part, Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, who is Muslim, denounced the decision by the court in Dijon for “taking children hostage.”

This is not the first time religion and education have clashed in a country where a 1905 law cemented the separation of church and state. A government ban pushed through a decade ago against Muslim headscarves, Jewish skullcaps and other “ostentatious” displays of religion in French public schools stirred similar controversy. France has Europe’s largest population of Jews and Muslims.

There was no immediate from Jewish leaders to the latest ruling.

The pork ruling was reportedly based on procedural grounds, and lawyers from the Muslim Council may still appeal it. It addressed a tradition for many years of offering alternatives to pork in public school lunches, along with vegetarian meals.

Platret’s ban has earned applause from a variety of fronts, including staunch secularists and conservative politicians. Some local municipalities also complain that offering substitutes for pork is expensive and wasteful.

Beyond cost concerns, the tradition has also tapped simmering anti-immigrant sentiments in France. The far-right National Front party has vowed to enact similar bans against pork substitutes in the 11 towns that it controls.

“We will not accept any religious demands in school meals,” National Front leader Marine Le Pen said earlier this year. “There is no reason for religion to enter the public sphere; that’s the law.” There may be one clear victor in Thursday’s ruling. French pig farmers have been staging angry protests against low pork prices and calling for more action from the government.


Suspected Amsterdam-Paris train attacker spent seven years in Spain

A man armed with a Kalashnikov automatic rifle, a handgun and a knife opened fire on a train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris on Friday before being overpowered by two passengers, both US soldiers. One of the soldiers, and another passenger, were both injured before the assailant was arrested. The attacker is believed to be Ayoub El Kahzzani – the name that French anti-terrorism authorities passed to their Spanish and other European counterparts on Friday night in order to carry out identity checks.

Spanish authorities described the suspect as “very radical and potentially dangerous”

Spain has information on this 26-year-old Moroccan national because he was legally resident in the country for seven years. Spanish anti-terrorism sources have told EL PAÍS that the suspect lived in Spain between 2007 and 2014, first in Madrid, then in the southern port city of Algeciras. He moved to France in March last year and from there traveled to Syria, allegedly to try to enlist with Islamic State. When he left Spain, Spanish authorities alerted the French intelligence services about his presence in France, describing him as “very radical and potentially dangerous.” He was also known to Belgian authorities.

El Kahzzani was legally resident in Spain, possessing a foreigner’s identification number, and his record shows that he was also arrested three times for drug trafficking, twice in Madrid and once in the Spanish north African exclave of Ceuta, the sources said.

First Dutch halal-bank might open in the Netherlands

Islamic banking is on the rise in the Netherlands. The Turkish bank KuveytTürk opened its first halal-bank in Germany last week. Now the bank is looking towards the Netherlands for further options.


This was said by Kemal Ozan, the general manager of the German branch of the bank. “After the opening in Frankfurt we would like to expand to the Dutch market.” He points to the large Muslim community in the Netherlands which consists of almost a million people. “There is a lot of potential for Islamic banking in the Netherlands.”

In 2008 The Dutch Bank and the Authority for Financial Markets identified a “substantial latent need” for Islamic banking products. However this never materialized. The Rabobank did experiment with interest-free banking products but without result. “We did have a look at it then but at the time it was not commercially interesting enough,” a spokesperson of the bank said.

The impediments are abundant: the quantity of Muslims is hard to establish and not all Muslims are orthodox practitioners of their faith. The Central Bureau for Statistics does forecast a considerable growth of the amount of Muslims in the Netherlands. Similarly, the average gross income of that group is increasing.

The most important impediment of the Dutch consumer market is the deduction of interest for mortgages. As a rule, conventional mortgages are cheaper because buyers of houses can deduce those mortgage’s interest from their taxes. Islamic mortgages would be easier to implement if a comparable settlement would be set up.

When the first Dutch Islamic bank will open in the Netherlands is not sure yet according to Ozan: “If our expansion is stabilized we will focus our attention on the Dutch market.”