Inside French Prisons, A Struggle to Combat Radicalization

With 2,500 inmates, the penitentiary institution of Fresnes, about 20 miles south of Paris, is one of the largest prisons in Europe. Like most French prisons, Fresnes is overcrowded. Built in the late 19th century, its tiny cells, each meant for one prisoner, most often house three.

Inmates scream curses and catcalls from their barred windows as I visit a small, empty sports yard ensconced between cell blocks. Plastic bags and punctured soccer balls are caught in the surrounding concertina wire.

The prisoners here yelled out in just this way back in November 2015, refusing to honor a minute of silence for the victims of the terrorist attacks on Paris cafes and the Bataclan concert hall.

Fresnes prison director Philippe Obligis says he began to see a radicalization problem here well before those attacks took place.

“There were some radical Muslims who were putting huge pressure on regular Muslims to adopt a certain kind of behavior,” he says. “Like taking a shower with their clothes on and not listening to music or watching TV.”

In 2014, Fresnes became the first French prison to separate radicalized inmates from the general prison population — they were put in an entirely separate wing, one person to each cell, and had different guards from the other prisoners.

After 2015, which began with the January attacks at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Kosher supermarket, and ended with the Bataclan attack in November, some other French prisons began separating inmates too. Several of the terrorists who killed nearly 150 people that year were common criminals who had become radicalized in prison.

In 2016, the French government put money into a rehabilitation program for radicals deemed not too far gone. The prisoners in these new anti-radicalization units received visits from psychologists and historians; they had the chance to attend some workshops or receive some training.

The radical units were controversial, especially after two guards at one prison were attacked in September of last year. In November, the French interior minister announced an end to the program.

Instead, the French government boosted security around the most dangerous prisoners — both radicals and not. And intelligence collecting in prisons was beefed up. A bureau of central intelligence for prisons was created earlier this year.

Around 350 French prisoners are serving jail terms for terrorist-related offenses. And a further 1,340 inmates convicted of regular crimes are identified as radicalized.

Businessman Pierre Botton went to jail for white collar crime in the 1990s and founded Together Against Recidivism, an organization devoted to improving the lives of prisoners. He says it’s nearly impossible to think about reforming in jail because prisoners are mainly just struggling to survive.

He believes radicals should be separated in different prisons entirely, because otherwise, they’ll inevitably interact with the rest of the prison population. He notes what happened when the only surviving terrorist from the Paris Bataclan attacks landed in a French jail last year.

“When Salah Abdeslam arrived, they clapped,” says Botton. “Do you understand what I’m saying? When he arrived in the jail, they clapped. They applauded.”

Botton says criminals like Abdeslam are icons in jails in the Paris region, where up to 70 percent of inmates identify as Muslim. Keeping records on the religion and ethnicity of French citizens is illegal, so there are no official statistics. But Botton says about 70 percent of prisoners in the Paris region observe the Muslim festival of Ramadan.

“So when you put guys like this who represent a certain ideology in the heart of a prison, surrounded by 4,000 inmates, there’s a huge risk they’ll contaminate the others,” he says.

Yannis Warrach, a Muslim cleric who works in his spare time at a top-security prison in Normandy, says prison is so brutal, inmates can only survive if they’re part of a gang. He has seen how the radicals recruit newcomers.

Imam Yannis Warrach helps prisoners resist radicalization at a top-security prison in Normandy. He says radicals recruit newcomers by “brainwash[ing]” them “little by little.”

“The ones who preach and proselytize will at first be nice to a detainee. They see his desperation,” he says. “They’ll befriend him, give him what he needs. Then they’ll say it’s destiny. They’ll say that God has a mission for him. And little by little, they brainwash him, telling him French society has rejected him, he can’t get a job because of his Arab last name, and he was always put in the worst classes at school.

“The problem is,” says Warrach, “it’s often true.”

Warrach says these young men must have hope for a different future to break out of the spiral of failure. He says French leaders have failed to change the socioeconomic factors that keep many French people of Muslim descent on the bottom rungs of the ladder.

Another big problem, he says, is the prevalence of hard-line, Salafist reading material in jails — often French translations of Saudi, Wahhabist tracts that advocate literal, strict interpretation of religious doctrine.

“I work to debunk this stuff,” says Warrach. “I give inmates under pressure a historical context of the faith and another narrative of Islam.”

He says that because of the pressure from radicals, who consider him an agent of the French government, he has to meet secretly with inmates who desperately want his help. Instead of meeting in rooms designated for religious worship, which are open, they meet in special prison visiting rooms for inmates’ lawyers, where no one can observe them.

Because of its strict separation of religion and state, Warrach says France is the only country in Europe where being a prison cleric is not considered a profession. He says he only receives a small stipend, but that he can’t build a life around it — there are no retirement plans or other benefits. Because of this, there can’t be an imam at the prison every day, which creates a huge void, he says. And it leaves plenty of room for uninformed, extremist interpretations of Islam in French prisons.

Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar supporting Salafi radicals in Germany, according to German intelligence report

Recurring scrutiny of religious activities of the Gulf States

The two main German domestic and foreign intelligence agencies (the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz and the Bundesnachrichtendienst) are accusing Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar of financing Salafi missionary activities in Germany. Practices scrutinised include the construction of mosques and educational centres, as well as the sending of Imams.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

These findings are gathered in a report by the two agencies, which had been commissioned by the German government. In the context of the recent arrival of Syrian and other Arab immigrants, the authorities’ concerns about the influence of religious exports from the Gulf have been growing. A number of Salafi missioning attempts in asylum centres have been highly mediatised and led to fierce public discussions.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/krude-missionierung-salafisten-werben-nahe-fluechtlingsheimen-13793462.html ))

Earlier this year, Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel had scolded Saudi Arabia for funding Wahhabi offshoots and institutions the world over. The Social Democratic politician claimed that “the time of looking away is over”.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/01/14/german-vice-chancellor-accuses-saudi-arabia-of-funding-islamic-extremism-in-the-west/ ))

Focus on Turkey

However, not much by way of official action has perspired since then. One of the most controversial Saudi-funded educational institutions in the country – the Bonn-based King Fahd Academy – was shut down and the Saudi government announced that it intended to cut back on its religious activities in Germany. Yet it was not immediately obvious that these Saudi steps had been taken due to mounting pressure by the German government.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/closure-controversial-king-fahd-academy-bonn-shifting-saudi-religious-politics-germany/ ))

Indeed, during 2016 public attention shifted back to Erdoğan’s Turkey and its control over DİTİB, Germany’s single largest Islamic association. As the diplomatic climate between Germany and Turkey worsened, authorities began to perceive DİTİB as a Trojan horse, suspending decades of close cooperation with the organisation ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/08/26/amidst-political-controversy-german-ditib-association-vows-greater-emancipation-turkish-state/ ))

The present intelligence report might put the Gulf back at the centre of the attention. It warns that the presence of Saudi Arabia and other wealthy religious players from the Gulf will lead to a further growth of the Germany’s 10,000-strong Salafi scene. A particular concerns it the potential for radicalisation among recently arrived refugees.

The precise linkage between missionary activities and violent jihad

While organisations such as the Kuwaiti Revival of Islamic Heritage Society (RIHS), the Shaykh Eid Charity Foundation from Qatar, or the Saudi-led Muslim World League reject violence, the intelligence reports asserts that, at least in the practice of the RIHS, “no clear distinction between missionary and jihadist Salafism” can be observed.

At the same time, the report notes that evidence capable of demonstrating these organisation’s active support of jihadists in Germany remained inconclusive.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/salafisten-verfassungsschutz-101.html )) Thus, the precise linkages between missionary foundations and jihadist networks still remain somewhat murky.

The role of the governments of the Gulf States

A particularly delicate matter are the connections between these organisations and the governments of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Qatar. While for instance Saudi Arabia has continued to insist on the ostentatious independence of the Muslim World League, the intelligence report asserts that these associations are “closely connected to state authorities in their countries of origin”.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

In other words, in spite of steps such as the closure of the King Fahd Academy, “worldwide missionary activity continues to remain raison d’état and part of foreign policy” of the Gulf States. Consequently, the report expects a further expansion of missionary activities in the future. As a response, the report demands that a European registry of Salafi missionary organisations and preachers be created, so as to prevent their entry to the Schengen zone.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/extremismus-saudis-unterstuetzen-deutsche-salafistenszene-1.3290991 ))

Islamist “mole” exposed at German domestic intelligence agency

Arrest on November 16

A 51-year-old man working at the German domestic intelligence agency – the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) – has been exposed as an alleged sympathiser of the jihadist cause.

He was arrested on November 16, after he had been placed under surveillance by his own employer for the preceding weeks.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html )) The 51-year-old had been part of the agency’s office tasked with monitoring the country’s Islamist scene.

His employer appears to have been alerted to the man’s questionable role when he offered advice to a fellow jihadist during an online chat session. The agent noted that he could supply access to the Verfassungsschutz buildings in Cologne in order to facilitate an attack on “unbelievers”. He asserted that he was “ready to do anything to help the brothers”. What he did not know was that his counterpart during the chat was himself working for the Verfassungsschutz.((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html ))

Actions “in the name of Allah”

No clear picture of the man and his potential motivations has emerged so far. Following his arrest, he claimed that he had sought to use his position at the agency to warn his brothers in faith of any potential investigations against them. His actions were, according to him, in accordance with Allah’s will.

Yet while he had mentioned internal matters from the Verfassungsschutz during the abovementioned online conversation, he does not appear to have leaked further information on the agency’s ongoing investigations.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html )) The man nevertheless presented himself as part of a large-scale plan to “infiltrate” the intelligence office.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html ))

Mental health questions

More than two weeks after the arrest, however, there are ongoing questions as to whether the man is a ‘Salafist’ or ‘jihadist’ or in fact an unstable individual. While in custody, the man has made a range of “mystical allusions” that appear to raise questions about his mental health.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/kampf-gegen-den-terror/verfassungsschutz-islamist-suchte-verbuendete-fuer-gewalttat-gegen-unglaeubige-14552367.html ))

He claims to have converted to Islam following a “spontaneous inspiration” in 2014 while on the phone with an unidentifiable “Mohamed” from Austria. Neither his wife nor his four children were aware of his alleged conversion.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html )) The man’s work as an actor in homosexual pornographic movies also at least casts doubt on his hard-line Islamist credentials.((http://www.dw.com/de/islamisten-pornos-und-der-verfassungsschutz-das-r%C3%A4tsel-um-maulwurf-m/a-36596498 ))

Keeping apart investigators and investigated

This cases comes as a renewed blow to Germany’s much-criticised domestic intelligence agency. In recent years, the Verfassungsschutz has been rocked by successive revelations about its role in the series of murders and attacks by the National Socialist Underground (NSU), a far-right terrorist cell.

There have been worrisome questions about the agency’s knowledge and thus de facto complicity in the NSU’s activities: the German neo-Nazi scene is densely populated by the agency’s informants – so densely, in fact, that the Constitutional Court rejected a motion to ban the far-right NPD party in 2005 because it noted that it could not distinguish between party leadership and Verfassungsschutz personnel.

In the present case, the Verfassungsschutz once again appears to be rather too close to the people it seeks to monitor. Indeed, on facebook the suspect not only expressed regret about the recent arrest of Abu Walaa – reported by Euro-Islam – but was also friends not just with a number of Islamists but also with several functionaries from a far-right political party.((https://www.tagesschau.de/inland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-109.html ))

Renewed criticism of the Verfassungsschutz

The agency’s president, Hans-Georg Maaßen, stressed that all necessary security preconditions had been taken when the man was hired. Nevertheless, the fact that an individual who joined the Verfassungsschutz as a lateral entrant in April 2016 – after he had lost his previous job as a bank clerk((https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html )) – could gain access to sensitive information so quickly raises considerable questions about the agency’s professionalism.

German parliamentarians also criticised Maassen and his office for failing to notify them immediately: news of the case broke only nearly two weeks after the arrest through revelations by Der Spiegel magazine.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/geheimdienst-islamist-schleicht-sich-bei-verfassungsschutz-ein-a-1123676.html ))

The threat of “infiltration”

The call for consequences has been swift: parliamentarians demanded, among other things, that the security checks of all Verfassungsschutz employees be conducted more often. Others called for a more dramatic restructuring of the agency itself.

Beyond these immediate reactions, however, what is likely to stick in the public’s perception is the threat of “infiltration”. As Euro-Islam reported, a recent survey found that 40 per cent of Germans believe that the country and its institutions are already “infiltrated” by Islam.

The media reaction to the suspected mole, at the Verfassungsschutz has most likely not dampened this anxiety. It was noteworthy, for instance, how many news outlets quickly focused on the man’s “conversion”—an act that, after all, seems to have occurred on the phone to an obscure contact in Austria if it occurred at all. ((See e.g. https://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/islamist-verfassungsschutz-107.html, https://www.welt.de/politik/deutschland/article159849913/Islamist-beim-Verfassungsschutz-enttarnt.html )) Conversion, as the ultimate act of infiltration, thus serves as the measuring stick for dangerousness.

New string of terrorism arrests in Germany include high-level IS recruiter

Planned knife attack

In recent days German police have moved against a host of terrorism suspects, highlighting the threat of attacks linked to the so-called Islamic State in the country.

In Berlin, a refugee was arrested on November 2. While the man claimed to be a Syrian national, American intelligence described him as Tunisian Islamist Ashraf al-T. The man initially denied all charges and asserted that he was the victim of a mix-up.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/karlsruhe-festgenommener-fluechtling-spricht-von-verwechslung-1.3235619 )) The investigative judge at the Federal Court of Justice, responsible for all terrorism cases, refused to take up the case due to a lack of evidence.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/festnahme-in-berlin-terrorverdaechtiger-ashraf-al-t-in-haft-wegen-urkundenfaelschung-1.3234513 ))

Subsequently, however, it emerged that the suspect had apparently planned a knife attack in Berlin, akin in nature to the axe assault in a train near Würzburg in July 2016.((http://www.tagesschau.de/ausland/terrorverdaechtiger-berlin-105.html ))  Moreover, like the train assailant, al-T. appears to have been in online contact with an IS middleman in Syria. And like in the case of the suicide bomber that targeted a festival in the Bavarian town of Ansbach in July, the investigation into Ahsraf al-T. paints a picture of a unstable individual with a history of mental health issues, including a suicide attempt. ((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/karlsruhe-festgenommener-fluechtling-spricht-von-verwechslung-1.3235619 ))

Target Berlin

The arrest of Ashraf al-T. comes as the latest foiled plot targeting the German capital. In March 2016, police had arrested Syrian Shaas al-M. After his arrival in Germany as a refugee in early 2015, al-M. had collected intelligence on potential targets for an IS attack in Berlin, including the lively Alexanderplatz, the Brandenburg Gate, and the Reichstag. At the time of his arrest, al-M. was poised to return to the IS’s ‘caliphate’, having joined the group for the first time in 2013. ((http://www.morgenpost.de/berlin/article208694887/Mutmasslicher-Terrorist-zielte-auf-das-Herz-Berlins.html ))

Jaber al-Bakr, whose protracted arrest and subsequent suicide in prison sent shockwaves through the German political scene as well as the Syrian community in early October, had equally prepared an attack in Berlin: his aim appears to have been a suicide bombing at the city’s main airport. ((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/17/manhunt-arrest-suicide-attacker-keep-germany-suspense/ )) All three cases highlight the extent to which the Islamic State has made use of the migratory flows to Europe in order to place its agents in Germany and elsewhere.

High-profile arrest of Abu Walaa

These developments coincide with a more high-profile arrest on November 8: after years of surveillance by the German domestic intelligence agency, the Verfassungsschutz, police arrested hard-line preacher Abu Walaa and four of his associates on terrorism charges. In his sermons and on social media, the Iraqi preacher had openly supported and celebrated the IS’s project and methods and encouraged believers to participate in the Syrian jihad.

The preacher had been active in the city of Hildesheim in Lower Saxony, whence he organised the travel of fighters to the Syrian battlefields. Founded in 2012, his Islamic centre had quickly emerged as one of the major hubs of jihadism in Germany. At least 20 members of the congregation have already made their way to the IS’s territory. This led German security insiders to assert that, of all extremist players on the German scene, “he [Abu Walaa] is the worst.”((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/eil-wichtiger-anwerber-des-is-in-deutschland-verhaftet-1.3239523 ))

According to the Federal Prosecutor, Abu Walaa handpicked sympathisers ‘ready’ to join the IS and organised the basic travel arrangements, while his accomplices implemented his commands.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html )) The Federal Prosecutor asserted that Abu Walaa functioned as the intellectual and spiritual father of a wide-ranging network of IS supporters in Germany.((http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html ))

Returnee’s testimony

After a rushed search of Abu Walaa’s Hildesheim premises in July 2016, at which time evidence was insufficient to allow for the preacher’s arrest,(( http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Polizei-durchsucht-Hotspot-der-Salafisten-Szene,salafisten340.html )) the testimony of a returnee from Syria appears to have solidified the case against Abu Walaa. The statements of 22-year-old Anil O., a former foreign jihadist fighter, were among the most important pieces of evidence to emerge.

Already in July 2016 when he met with German journalists in Turkey, Anil O. claimed that Abu Walaa was “the highest representative of the IS in Germany”. Anil O., a German national of Turkish extraction and top-grade medicine student at Aachen University, asserted that he himself had come under Abu Walaa’s influence at his Hildesheim centre.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861-2 ))

Anil O.’s case is among the growing number of judicial proceedings against foreign fighters returning from the Syrian theatre of war.((http://www.euro-islam.info/2016/10/30/german-courts-seek-move-beyond-counter-terrorism-measures-path-breaking-trials-fighters-syrian-battlefields/ )) Of the more than 750 German nationals and residents that have travelled to the Levant, 250 have already made their way back. Anil O. asserted that he had been disgusted by the IS’s atrocities he witnessed in Syria and wanted to prevent others from making the mistake of joining the group.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861-2 )) His cooperation with German authorities also constitutes a way for the former fighter to reduce his prison time.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html ))

Strong media presence

Abu Walaa’s nimbus significantly derives from his strong online presence. On social media and on his website, he presents himself as ‘the preacher without a face’, due to the fact that in the majority of his videos he only appears as a shadow or in shots showing his head from the back. In order to spread his message, he even markets his own smartphone app.

In this respect, the arrest of Abu Walaa is an important step forward in German counter-terrorism efforts: the more than 1,000 judicial proceedings on terrorism charges that have been brought to court so far were nearly always directed against little fry. Suspects were mostly individuals who had actively joined or passively been sucked into radical networks; yet the networks themselves and their high-level organisers were hardly ever targeted.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/islamisten-in-deutschland-das-ist-der-schlimmste-1.3239861 ))

Reactions

The Federal Minister of Justice, Heiko Maas (SPD), consequently hailed the arrest of Abu Walaa and his associates as “an important step against the extremist scene in Germany”. Yilmaz Kilic, head of the Lower-Saxon branch of Turkish-dominated DITIB, Germany’s largest Muslim association, equally lauded the police action: “when someone abuses our religion for extremism, then the police should step in.”((http://www.ndr.de/nachrichten/niedersachsen/hannover_weser-leinegebiet/Schlag-gegen-deutsches-IS-Netzwerk,abuwalaa104.html ))

On a slightly different note, influential radical Salafi preacher Pierre Vogel, with whom Abu Walaa had often clashed – mainly over Vogel’s rejection of the Islamic State – exhibited a good deal of schadenfreude at his rival’s arrest.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/islamischer-staat-festnahme-von-abu-walaa-ist-schlag-gegen-die-salafistenszene-a-1120283.html ))

French government under pressure from mayors to release watch list

The French government is resisting pressure from conservative mayors who are demanding access to a confidential list of security suspects, including thousands suspected of Islamist radicalization.

Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said this week he would not provide the information to mayors who want to act against – presumably by trying to expel – residents of their cities and towns who appear on the so-called S File or S List.

Cazeneuve in a newspaper interview pointed out that people on the list, while they are monitored, are not subject to an arrest warrants “because there is no proof that they are really dangerous. They are only suspects.”

“The need for confidentiality in the investigations is essential,” he added. “Thanks to the confidentiality in the investigations, we have arrested 355 people linked to terrorist networks since January.”

Cazeneuve said the government should find a way to involve mayors in the process of preventing radicalization, but without hampering the efficiency of the intelligence agencies and their work.

Last month Guy Lefrand, the conservative mayor of Evreux, a small town in Normandy, asked intelligence and police agencies to provide him with names of people on the S List living in his city and suspected of being radicalized.

“France is under a state of emergency, and it is the duty of the state to give us access to the S List,” he told reporters at the time. “If the state won’t provide this information, I demand that they take the responsibility for removing these people from my town.”

Several other mayors joined their voices to Lefrand’s. The Association of Mayors of France plans to meet with Cazeneuve in the coming weeks to discuss the issue.

Nicolas Sarkozy, the former president who is running for a fresh term in elections next year, has promised that if he is elected he will immediately organize a referendum to ask whether citizens agree those listed in the S List should be subject to administrative detention.

First created in 1969, the S (the S stands for State Security) List includes the names of people considered potentially dangerous and therefore subject to surveillance by police and intelligence agencies.

Those listed include gangsters, anarchists, unionists, anti-nuclear campaigners and suspected Islamist radicals or Muslims in the process of radicalization. It includes people who have visited jihadist websites, met with radicals outside mosques in France, or traveled – or tried to travel – to Syria to join the jihad.

Today some 20,000 people are listed, of whom around 10,500 are suspected radicals or individuals in the process of becoming radicalized, according to numbers published at the beginning of 2016. The individuals are under physical and phone surveillance but are only subject to arrest if they commit a crime, or are suspected to be ready to do so.

The list is overseen by France’s internal and external security agencies, and only their staffers, along with senior government officials, have access. Even where police are instructed to monitor someone listed, the agencies do not generally give reasons.

Nathalie Goulet, a center-right senator and vice-chairwoman of the foreign affairs committee, initially supported divulging the names of listed people, but has changed her position.

“I agree with Interior Minister Cazeneuve not to give names to mayors or to anyone else,” she said in a phone interview. “I think it is important that intelligence agencies work in confidentiality. And don’t forget that not only does the list encompass a lot of different people, not all linked to terrorism or radicalization, but that they have not been prosecuted.”

Goulet said some of the mayors who are pressuring Cazeneuve are motivated by the upcoming elections.

“They know that there are only presumptions against the listed people, and nothing else,” she added.

 

Cell of French women behind failed Notre Dame attack

A cell of radicalized French women guided by Islamic State commanders in Syria was behind a failed terrorist attack near Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral last weekend and planned another violent attack this week before they were intercepted by police, the Paris prosecutor has said.

The women, aged 19, 23 and 39, were arrested in Boussy-Saint-Antoine, a small town 30km southeast of Paris, on Thursday night after they were linked to the discovery of a car packed with gas cylinders parked near the cathedral last weekend. Officials said the women had been planning an imminent violent attack on the busy Gare de Lyon station in Paris and were stopped after a police and intelligence operation described as a “race against time”.

 

The car had no plates and was left with indicators flashing in a narrow alley. From the insurance sticker on the car, police traced it back to a father of five daughters originally from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

One of the daughters, aged 19, who was named by news agencies as Ines Madani, was known to intelligence agencies and had been on a radicalisation watchlist for her wish to leave to join jihadis in Syria. At the time the car was found, she had been missing from home for several days.

Police on Thursday traced Madani and two other women to a flat in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in the Essonne area south of Paris. They arrested the three women when they left the flat. During the arrest, one of the women stabbed a police officer with a large kitchen knife, and Madani jumped on another officer attempting to stab him. The police opened fire and Madani was injured. When she was arrested, Madani had the keys to the Peugeot 607 in her handbag and a note pledging her allegiance to Isis and a reproduction of an Isis text vowing “we will attack you on your territory to attack your spirits and terrorise you”. Isis propaganda was found on her computer at her home.

A 15-year-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the three women arrested, Amel S, was separately detained on Friday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris. The prosecutor said the teenager could have been implicated in the planned terrorist attack.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had said of the three women detained on Thursday that they were “radicalised and fanaticised” and believed to have been preparing “new and imminent violent action”. He said there had been a “race against time” to stop them, involving a vast police and intelligence operation.

“France is confronted with a terrorist threat of unprecedented scale,” he added. The changing threat took different forms and was very hard to detect, he added, calling for the “vigilance of all citizens”.

The Paris prosecutor, François Molins, said one of the women arrested, who he referred to as Sarah H, aged 23, had been engaged at different times to two French extremists who themselves had carried out deadly attacks this year.

She had been engaged to Larossi Abballa, who in June murdered a police commander and his police officer partner at their home in Magnanville outside Paris in the presence of their three-year-old son. He filmed the aftermath on Facebook Live before dying in a police raid. She was also betrothed to Adel Kermiche, who slit the throat of an elderly French priest during morning mass in Normandy in July. Her current fiancé was arrested on Thursday, Molins said.

The prosecutor said the cell of women terrorists showed that Islamic State “intends to make women into fighters”. He said that if women had previously been “confined to family and domestic tasks” by the militant group, that vision was now strongly out of date. “Their aim was to commit an attack,” he said of the women.

The group’s first attempted attack involved parking a Peugeot 607 car packed with gas cylinders near the cathedral in the heart of Paris and trying to blow it up. The car was also found to have contained diesel canisters and a barely-smoked cigarette had been thrown into the car near a canister with traces of hydrocarbons. Molins said the perpetrators had clearly tried to blow the car up and if they had succeeded it would have led to the explosion of the whole vehicle.

The car had no plates and was left with indicators flashing in a narrow alley. From the insurance sticker on the car, police traced it back to a father of five daughters originally from the Seine-Saint-Denis area north of Paris.

One of the daughters, aged 19, who was named by news agencies as Ines Madani, was known to intelligence agencies and had been on a radicalisation watchlist for her wish to leave to join jihadis in Syria. At the time the car was found, she had been missing from home for several days.

Police on Thursday traced Madani and two other women to a flat in Boussy-Saint-Antoine in the Essonne area south of Paris. They arrested the three women when they left the flat. During the arrest, one of the women stabbed a police officer with a large kitchen knife, and Madani jumped on another officer attempting to stab him. The police opened fire and Madani was injured. When she was arrested, Madani had the keys to the Peugeot 607 in her handbag and a note pledging her allegiance to Isis and a reproduction of an Isis text vowing “we will attack you on your territory to attack your spirits and terrorise you”. Isis propaganda was found on her computer at her home.

A 15-year-old girl, who is the daughter of one of the three women arrested, Amel S, was separately detained on Friday morning in Clichy-sous-Bois, north of Paris. The prosecutor said the teenager could have been implicated in the planned terrorist attack.

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, had said of the three women detained on Thursday that they were “radicalised and fanaticised” and believed to have been preparing “new and imminent violent action”. He said there had been a “race against time” to stop them, involving a vast police and intelligence operation.

“France is confronted with a terrorist threat of unprecedented scale,” he added. The changing threat took different forms and was very hard to detect, he added, calling for the “vigilance of all citizens”.

The French president, François Hollande, said: “There’s a group that has been annihilated, but there are others. Information we were able to get from our intelligence services allowed us to act before it was too late.’’

Speaking on Friday morning, an interior ministry official told Reuters: “An alert has been issued to all stations, but they had planned to attack the Gare de Lyon on Thursday.”

The train station, one of the busiest in Paris, is in the south-east of the capital.

The discovery of the Peugeot 607 near Notre Dame carrying seven gas cylinders, six of them full, led to a terrorism investigation and revived fears about further attacks in a country where Islamic militants have killed more than 230 people since January 2015.

Several people have been arrested and questioned in the case of the car of gas cylinders. A 27-year-old man and a 26-year-old woman were detained on Wednesday south of Paris and a second couple, a 34-year-old man and a 29-year-old woman, were detained on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, Florence Berthout, the mayor of Paris’s fifth arrondissement, said the discovery of the car highlighted the need to increase security in the French capital. “Police and army staffing must be stepped up,” she told news channel BFMTV.

The vehicle was left in a zone where parking is strictly prohibited and had remained there for about two hours before it came to the attention of police after being reported by a waiter at a nearby restaurant, she said.

Thousands of extra police and soldiers have been deployed to protect sensitive sites across France. A state of emergency declared after the coordinated attacks on Paris last November remains in place and gives police extra search and arrest powers, but there has been a continuing political debate about security levels since 85 people were killed when a man driving a lorry ploughed into crowds celebrating Bastille Day on 14 July in Nice.

Terrorism: Valls and Urvoas definitively exclude detention centers

Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.fr/2016/06/15/terrorisme-valls-urvoas-centres-retention-_n_10474368.html

 

June 15, 2016

French authorities have ruled out creating Guantanamo Bay-style detention centers for suspected Islamic radicals, Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Wednesday. The announcement comes as the nation contends with a growing domestic terror problem, particularly in the wake of a fatal stabbing of two Paris-area police officers Monday night.

 

“Our first weapon is criminal law, and it is the legitimacy of the rule of law: to pursue, detain and put out of harm’s way all those who engage in these [jihadist] networks,” Valls said. “[It is] dangerous to confuse measures of surveillance with those of confinement,” he added.

 

Valls’ statement comes just two days after a French police officer and his partner, who also worked for law enforcement, were stabbed to death at their home west of Paris. They are survived by their 3-year-old son. The perpetrator of the murders had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group terrorist organization.

 

France had been considering the idea of creating detention centers — dubbed “French Guantanamos” — for people who are suspected of being potential terrorists or are being monitored by intelligence officials. More than 10,000 people throughout the country are categorized as “Fiche S,” or a potential security threat. Their offenses range from banditry all the way to terrorism, and not all are being actively monitored by intelligence officials.

 

The system has faced criticism, particularly after coordinated terror attacks in November killed 130 people and wounded hundreds more in Paris. Those attacks came just three months after a foiled attack on a high-speed train and 10 months after a pair of ISIS-inspired brothers stormed the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, killing 12.

A system of detention for suspected Islamic radicals already exists in several French prisons. A few dozen of the most radical prisoners are determined by using a set of questions, and they are then confined with each other with the goal of preventing their philosophies from spreading. That system has faced much scrutiny as well, with critics arguing that it only facilitates communication among would-be jihadists.

 

Frenchman ‘planned attacks during euro 2016’

Source: http://www.liberation.fr/france/2016/06/06/un-francais-interpelle-avec-un-arsenal-en-ukraine_1457616

June 6, 2016

 

A Frenchman detained last month with a large cache of arms was planning mass attacks during the Euro 2016 football tournament, which starts on Friday, Ukrainian officials say.

 

The man, identified by French media as Gregoire Moutaux, 25, was arrested on the Ukrainian border with Poland.

Intelligence chief Vasyl Hrytsak said the man had planned 15 attacks and was driven by ultra-nationalist views.

 

He had amassed guns, detonators and 125kg of TNT, Hrytsak said.

 

Hrytsak listed bridges, motorways, a mosque and a synagogue among the suspect’s potential targets. He was being prosecuted for arms smuggling and terrorism, he said.

It was not clear if the tournament itself was being targeted and Paris police prefect Michel Cadot told reporters there was “no specific threat against any [Euro 2016] site.”

 

News of the man’s arrest on 21 May first emerged in a recent report. The suspect was described as a worker at a farming co-operative from the Lorraine area of eastern France. He had no previous criminal record, reports said. French authorities have been on high security alert ahead of the European championships, amid fears that the tournament could be targeted by Islamist militants.

 

President Francois Hollande said on Sunday that “the threat exists” but that France should not be daunted. Ukraine’s SBU security service said it had been watching the suspect since December last year and that he had picked up five Kalashnikovs, two anti-tank grenade launchers, some 5,000 rounds of ammunition and 100 detonators, as well as a large quantity of explosives.

 

An SBU video was shown of the dramatic moment of the suspect’s arrest along with the weapons that intelligence officials said they had found. The arrest was said to have taken place at a border crossing close to the Ukrainian town of Yahodyn.

 

The footage also revealed a second person being wrestled to the ground on the passenger side of the car.

 

The SBU chief said the French suspect had been in touch “with military units fighting in Donbass”, a reference to the eastern areas of Luhansk and Donetsk, where pro-Russian rebels have seized large areas of Ukrainian territory.

 

“The Frenchman spoke negatively of the activities of his government on mass migration of foreigners to France, the spread of Islam and globalization. He also said he wished to stage a number of terrorist attacks in protest,” Hrytsak said.

 

A search was carried out at the suspect’s home in the tiny village of Nant-le-Petit and police sources told French media that explosive material and balaclavas were recovered.

An inquiry has been launched by France’s organized crime agency, OCLCO, and by regional authorities in Nancy.

 

However, French police sources told AFP news agency that Ukrainian officials had yet to send them any details. There was some skepticism that the suspect could have been anything more than an arms trafficker.

France on edge day after 2nd terror attack in 6 months

A day after a man was decapitated at a gas factory in France’s second terror attack in six months, residents questioned whether the nation is doing enough to stop terrorists.

“It feels that these attacks are now happening back to back,” said Ilan Cohn, 21, a student in Paris. “I am afraid that there will be more and more, just recently Charlie Hebdo and now this?

Yaccine Salhi, 35, a man once placed on a “radicalization list” drove his truck into a U.S.-owned gas factory in the southeastern French city Lyon on Friday, triggering an explosion as his boss’ severed head was found at the entrance, authorities said.

Two people were injured in the explosion of gas canisters. “Islamist terrorism has again struck France,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said. He warned Saturday that France faces even more attacks.

Officials told the Associated Press and AFP on Saturday that Salhi took a selfie with the slain victim and sent the image to at least one recipient.

French security forces had been on high alert since Islamic extremist gunmen targeted the Paris office of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in January, setting off several days of attacks in the city that left 20 people dead.

“These were the actions of a few isolated men but what if it’s not the case next time — we could have a mass attack by an organized network of fundamentalists,” Cohn said. “That’s really scary. It doesn’t feel like the authorities are able to prevent anything.”

Salhi — who remained in custody Saturday along with his wife and sister — was known to intelligence services but had not been actively monitored by security officers since 2008.

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No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack at U.S.-based Air Products’ factory in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier. It happened the same day as Islamic State-claimed attacks at a Shiite mosque in Kuwait and a beach resort in Tunisia. Overall, at least 66 people died across the three countries.

Several hundred people gathered in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier on Saturday to remember slain businessman Herve Cornara, 54, and denounce the violence, the Associated Press reported. Cornara was the manager of a transportation company in the region that had employed Salhi since March.

French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Salhi is believed to have been under the influence of the extreme Salafist branch of Islam that calls for the faithful to return to the religion’s roots. Arabic inscriptions were found scrawled on the victim and Islamic flags were discovered at the plant.

“Now we are not safe at all. If everything was under strict surveillance, we wouldn’t have this in France,” said Madeline Siloe, 33, a health coach from the French capital. “It doesn’t seem to me that there is a serious surveillance, that anyone is watching.”

But analysts say France has doubled its efforts to counter terrorism since the attack onCharlie Hebdo in January, for which the Islamic State claimed responsibility.

Since then, thousands of extra police and military forces have been posted at “sensitive sites,” such as tourist attractions and transport hubs, around the country. The parliament passed a sweeping surveillance bill this week giving vast powers to intelligence services. Opponents of the controversial legislation say it grants powers with little oversight and is broader than the much-maligned U.S. Patriot Act.

“It would be inaccurate to say that the French government hasn’t done enough to counter the terrorist threat in recent months and years,” said Benoît Gomis, an international security and terrorism expert at think tank Chatham House.

“If anything some of what has been put in place might have gone too far in terms of creating opportunity costs, grievances, and infringing on privacy and other civil liberties,” Gomis said. “It will never be possible to stop every single terrorist attack.”

About 1,700 French citizens are believe to be involved in “jihadist networks” as of last month. France also has one of the highest numbers of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq per capita in Europe, Gomis said.

Any measures to tackle the problem could be ineffective if France ignores the context in which people are attracted to radical causes, he added.

“More needs to be done to address some of the conducive factors to extremism of all sorts in France, especially on the social and political fronts,” Gomis said. “The government needs to ensure that this terrorist attack does not serve as a pretext to victimize the Muslim population, create tensions between communities or spread disproportionate levels of fear about terrorism.”

The number of terrorist attacks worldwide increased 35% last year. More than 78% of all terror-related fatalities took place in Iraq, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Syria, according to the U.S. Bureau of Counterterrorism. With France on high alert and bracing itself for what comes next, Paris resident Siloe says fear is not the answer.

“I am not afraid but I am worried, if said I am afraid it would mean they have won,” she said. “I think we have to be extremely vigilant and keep in mind what happened. We mustn’t forget about it tomorrow.”

Spanish call centers and butcher’s shops fund jihad

There is a network of at least 250 call centers, halal butcher’s shops and grocery stores in Spain funding jihadist operations in Syria and Iraq. To send donations to the Islamic State (ISIS) or the Syrian Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat Al-Nusra, the network uses the ‘hawala’ informal money transfer system. The system avoids inspection by the authorities and moves the savings of over 150,000 Muslims, estimated at 300 million euros per year, Spanish daily El Pais quoted intelligence services as saying.
It is used by Syrian, Tunisian, Algerian and especially Pakistani immigrants. Investigators say that there are about 300 hawala terminals and clandestine ‘offices’ in Barcelona, Tarragona, Lleida, Bilbao, Santander, Valencia and Madrid used by the network to support the ‘jihadist cause’.

It is also the channel through which payments to jihadists of Spanish nationality get to Spain from camps in northern Syria. Intelligence services estimate that there are about 100 youth – mostly of Moroccan origins – that have joined ISIS, including about 15 that have been killed in suicide operations against the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad.

It is also the channel through which payments to jihadists of Spanish nationality get to Spain from camps in northern Syria. Intelligence services estimate that there are about 100 youth – mostly of Moroccan origins – that have joined ISIS, including about 15 that have been killed in suicide operations against the Syrian regime under Bashar Al-Assad.