Aftershocks of Berlin Christmas market attack lead to counter-terrorism debates in Germany

It is now almost a year ago that Anis Amri, a Tunisian man who had arrived in Germany in 2015 and claimed to be a refugee, steered a lorry into a Berlin Christmas market, killing 12 and injuring 56.

New report on intelligence failings

Almost immediately after the event, growing evidence pointed to severe failings on the part of the authorities. Not only had they not noticed the danger emanating from Amri; different sections of the justice system had also failed to arrest the young man following any of his multiple brushes with the law.

Amri, whose legal right to remain in the country had expired long ago, had had repeated run-ins with the police not only on the grounds of suspected Islamist radicalism but also for violations of residence requirements and for a range of drug infractions.

Now, a new report, commissioned by the government of Berlin, has attempted to chronicle the events leading up to the December 2016 attack. Its author, former federal prosecutor Bruno Jost, paints a dismal picture of German counter-terrorism efforts.(( http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/fall-anis-amri-sonderermittler-wirft-behoerden-versagen-vor-a-1172571.html ))

Lack of cooperation and of personnel in the counter-terrorism sector

Jost describes how large gaps opened up in Germany’s counter-terrorism architecture that allowed Amri to slip through the cracks for more than a year. The vertical information flow between different levels of the security apparatus remained deficient, so that high-level counter-terrorism bodies – who discussed Amri and his potential plans – never held all the relevant information that had been collected.

Horizontally, cooperation between the different institutions – various police departments, domestic intelligence agencies, and prosecutorial bodies – was equally haphazard. Moreover, security agencies did not share information across Germany’s internal federal boundaries, meaning that the states of Berlin, North-Rhine Westphalia, and Baden-Württemberg left each other in the dark regarding their respective insights into Amri’s persona and intentions.

Finally, Jost highlighted severe staff shortages particularly in Berlin: although the capital’s authorities had for a time designated Amri as the most dangerous individual with jihadist linkages in the city, they were unable to keep track of him. Notably, he could only be monitored on weekdays: on weekends, there was a lack of staff.

Solving the staffing problems

As a response to the Amri case, politicians from across the political spectrum have called for greater centralisation of counter-terrorism efforts at the national level. Similarly, there is cross-partisan agreement on the need to replenish Germany’s police, whose forces had been depleted over the course of several years of budget cuts.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/nach-bericht-zu-anis-amri-das-ist-wirklich-eine-bittere.694.de.html?dram:article_id=398118, http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2017-10/terrorismus-union-forderung-reform-ueberwachung-anis-amri ))

More personnel, however, will most likely not solve all problems but may also generate new issues of its own. In fact, the reliability of German counter-terrorism staff has come repeatedly into question in recent months.

Questions about the reliability of intelligence personnel

First, the country’s domestic intelligence agency – the Verfassungsschutz – was rocked by revelations about an alleged Islamist mole. In this somewhat bizarre case, a former porn actor and bank clerk, who had recently joined the agency, had passed on classified information online to a supposed member of the Salafi scene – who, in fact, turned out to be another member of the Verfassungsschutz working undercover.

While it was initially suspected that the man had acted out of jihadist motivations, he ultimately turned out to be not driven by political or religious terrorism but by “boredom”: in different internet fora, the man had enjoyed playing different ‘roles’, passing himself off in turns as a hard-core militarist, a far-right neo-Nazi, and a fervent jihadist.(( http://www.mdr.de/nachrichten/vermischtes/urteil-maulwurf-verfassungsschutz-100.html ))

A state informer as an Islamist agent provocateur

In the case of Anis Amri, intelligence personnel has played an occasionally dubious role, too. Prior to his attack on the Christmas market, Amri moved in the orbit of hard-line preacher ‘Abu Walaa’, arrested in November 2016 for being the central node of ISIS’s network in Germany. Recent investigations have shed light on the potentially pivotal role of an inside man employed by the Verfassungsschutz within these circles.(( http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/anschlag-in-berlin-die-mysterioese-rolle-eines-v-manns-im-fall-amri-1.3689391 ))

The undercover informer, working under the codename “Murat”, had driven Amri to Berlin on at least one occasion in 2016. Moreover, there is evidence that Murat pushed Amri to commit an attack in Germany: a Muslim man who had witnessed interactions between Murat and Amri turned to the police after the Christmas market attack, alleging that Murat had been a crucial influencer inciting Amri to violence against German targets.

Murat had reported to his superiors at the agency that Amri was considered a candidate for travelling to Syria in order to join local jihadist groups – rather than being prepared to mount an operation in Germany. Now the possibility emerges that Murat himself may have overplayed his role as an agent provocateur, thereby helping to pave the way for the Berlin attack.

Blurring lines between state intelligence bodies and terror groups

The case of “Murat” thus highlights the possibility that the inside agents of the Verfassungsschutz – called V-Männer in German intelligence jargon – may become important factors in the terrorist groups they are supposed to observe.

The resulting blurring of the lines between intelligence agency and terror group is not confined to the Islamist spectrum: Investigations into the National Socialist Underground (NSU) cell, who killed 10 (mostly immigrant) victims between 2000 and 2006 and was responsible for two bomb attacks as well as 14 bank robberies, have uncovered systematic linkages between the neo-Nazi terror group and the German intelligence community.(( http://taz.de/Die-NSU-Serie-Teil-2/!5350062/ ))

Shadow of the NSU case

Seven intelligence agencies paid more than 40 men and women inside the NSU’s network. Among them were high-level neo-Nazi functionaries; and many informers had a long criminal history ranging from incitement of racial hatred to attempted murder.

A high-level agent the Verfassungsschutz is suspected of having been at the scene of at least one of the NSU’s murders; and the agency’s informers have been accused of having sheltered NSU members and of having delivered weapons and explosives. After the NSU was discovered, the agency shredded a large number of documents pertaining to the NSU affair, protecting its informers and preventing the full investigation of the group to this day.

The Verfassungsschutz’s heavy reliance on inside men also caused the failure of an attempt to ban the neo-Nazi NPD Party in 2003: the fact that high-level NPD leaders were in fact paid informers of the domestic intelligence agency led the Constitutional Court to decide that the party could not be banned because it was too close to the state and hence not independent in its decisions.(( http://www.focus.de/politik/deutschland/v-mann-affaere-fatale-frenz-connection_aid_204938.html ))

Demands for more electronic surveillance

It is perhaps against this backdrop that agencies have recently renewed their demands for enhanced legal and technological tools that can help dispense with reliance on controversial V-Männer. The President of the Verfassungsschutz, Hans-Georg Maaßen, reiterated  his call that his agency be given access to online messaging services such as WhatsApp and Telegram. He also demanded enhanced competencies for surveillance of internet browsing.(( http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/verfassungsschutzchef-maassen-fordert-mehr-technische-werkzeuge/20416986.html ))

One might be tempted to observe that none of these new tools would have been necessary to apprehend Anis Amri: existing legal possibilities would have been sufficient, had the various players in the police and intelligence communities only managed to work together and use them.

When asked about the failure to stop Amri, however, Maaßen continues to reject all responsibility. Instead, he places the blame at the feet of Angela Merkel’s (brief) open-door policy of summer 2015. Maaßen asserts that Amri crossed the border irregularly, that he had no legal claim to asylum, and that he should have been deported back to Italy under the rules of the Dublin system even before his agency should have become involved.(( http://www.fr.de/politik/geheimdienst-verfassungsschutz-fordert-mehr-befugnisse-a-1363344,0#artpager-1363344-0 ))

French authorities accused of covering up Jew’s slaying by Muslim neighbor

A European Parliament member and prominent French intellectuals protested the omission of anti-Semitism from a draft indictment of a Muslim for the murder of his Jewish neighbor.

Frédérique Ries, a lawmaker from Belgium, on Thursday criticized French authorities’ handling of the investigation into the April 4 incident, in which Sarah Halimi was tortured and thrown out of her third-story apartment to her death, allegedly by Kobili Traore, who lived in her building.

“French authorities have treated her murder with icy silence,” Ries, who is Jewish, said in reference to the fact that Traore, who had no history of mental illness, was placed at a psychiatric institution and has not been charged with a hate crime despite evidence suggesting he killed Halimi because she was Jewish.

In a voice recording of the incident, Traore is heard shouting “Allahu akbar,” calling Sarah “Satan” and calmly praying after her killing, according to reports.

17 French intellectuals published a scathing criticism of the handling of the incident by authorities and the media.

“Everything about this crime suggests there is an ongoing denial of reality” by authorities, the intellectuals wrote, citing also testimonies of neighbors who said Traore had called Halimi a “dirty Jew” to her face and called her relatives “dirty Jews” as well in the past.

Many French Jews believe authorities covered up Halimi’s alleged murder to prevent it from becoming fodder for the divisive presidential campaign.

 

Islamic group drops cemetery plan in Massachusetts town

WORCESTER, Mass. — An Islamic group no longer plans to build a Muslim cemetery in a small Massachusetts town following a contentious fight for approval.

The Islamic Society of Greater Worcester announced Thursday it’s dropping its plan for a cemetery in the town of Dudley. The group says it wants to build in Worcester instead.

On Wednesday, federal officials announced they had closed an investigation into whether Dudley violated the civil rights of the group when the town rejected the cemetery proposal. The town later agreed to allow the group to build a cemetery.

2 charged with lying to help friend linked to Islamic State

Two northern Virginia men have been indicted after authorities charged them with lying to the FBI to protect a friend under investigation for his support of the Islamic State group.  According to an FBI affidavit, the two were questioned about their friend Haris Qamar last year. The affidavit alleges the two knew Qamar had tried to join the Islamic State in 2014, but denied it to protect him.

The federal grand jury in Alexandria indicted 28-year-old Michael Queen of Woodbridge and 32-year-old Soufian Amri of Falls Church Tuesday on charges including obstruction of justice and making false statements involving international terrorism.

 

Pig heads thrown in mosque in eastern France

The Muslim community in eastern French town of Dijon were targeted by an Islamophobic attack when six pigs heads were thrown at the gates of a mosque under construction.

Six halves of pigs heads were discovered on the gates of the mosque building in Genlis, a small town near Dijon, France on Friday morning.  “Cold cuts” of pork were discovered thrown into the yard.

Dijon prosecutor’s office launched an investigation under charges of ethnic hate and fueling discrimination, the report said.

Genlis City Mayor Vincent Dancourts confirmed the attack in a written statement and said that the authorities were in full solidarity with the area’s Muslim community.

“The police have taken samples and I hope the person or people who perpetrated this act will be held accountable. Hatred linked to religion has no place in our commune where everyone must live in harmony and respect for each other,” he said.

The French Socialist party’s Kheira Bouziane joined the mayor in speaking out against the incident “with the upmost firmness”.

SOS Racism, an anti-racist movement in France, strongly condemned the attack and called on the authorities to hold those responsible accountable for the acts. The mosque building was handed over to a Muslim association in Genlis in recent months and was under construction at the time of the incident.

 

Little-known law stops some Muslims from obtaining US citizenship

Mohammad Al-Falahi had just gotten home from work and was about to take a shower when two detectives showed up at his door.

At least one of them was on the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force with the FBI in Las Vegas.

Al-Falahi claimed one of the detectives wanted him to inform on another man who lived in the same apartment complex. Both men were from Iraq.

This happened in early 2014, about a week after Al-Falahi had his first U.S. citizenship interview, which lasted about 90 minutes, three times longer than most.

The now 30-year-old aviation student from Las Vegas was confounded by the sudden mysterious activity surrounding him.

And that was just the beginning.

His citizenship case was delayed and he couldn’t get answers as to why. Al-Falahi hired an attorney and filed a lawsuit in federal court. He and his attorney say he was asked by immigration officials to drop the lawsuit in return for another interview.

After he did so, his second interview lasted about two hours, but still nothing happened.

Al-Falahi was notified in mid-January his U.S. citizenship had been denied after his attorney, M. Edwin Prudhomme, appealed an intent to deny notice in November.

“They were harassing me for two years with no reason just because my name is Mohammad and I’m from Iraq and I’m Muslim,” said Al-Falahi, who claims the treatment is a result of his refusal to be an informant. “Is it a crime that I’m from Iraq and my name is Mohammad?”

The Las Vegas Review-Journal was able to confirm that one of the two detectives who visited Al-Falahi is on the Southern Nevada Joint Terrorism Task Force, but he declined to comment.

Al-Falahi’s case is not unusual in the Las Vegas area, where other Muslims have similar experiences but never learn why they were treated differently.

Many believe they’re caught up in a little-known program called Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program, or CARRP. It was established in 2008 by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to “ensure that immigration benefits or services are not granted to individuals who pose a threat to national security and or public safety, or who seek to defraud” the immigration system, according to Immigration Services officials.

A total of 41,805 CARRP cases nationwide have been opened since the program’s implementation, according to records obtained by the newspaper through the federal Freedom of Information Act.

The top five countries of birth for individuals affected by CARRP since 2008 are Pakistan, Iraq, India, Iran and Yemen, according to the records.

UNUSUAL TREATMENT

A typical process to become a U.S. citizen takes 90 to 100 days, said Prudhomme, who has been handling immigration cases for more than 50 years. It’s also rare for interviews to last more than 30 minutes, or for multiple interviews.

“I think only once in the 50-plus years have I had more than one interview,” Prudhomme said.

But Prudhomme said he has been seeing a string of delays in cases involving Muslims, with several exceeding 18 months. He said he didn’t understand why until learned about the Immigration Services program.

CARRP’s methods of identifying “national security concerns” are flawed and sometimes based on religion, national origin and profiling by association, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said in a 2013 report based on Immigration Services documents it obtained through a series of Freedom of Information Act requests.

“Predictably, the … program not only catches far too many harmless applications in its net, but it has overwhelmingly affected applicants who are Muslims or perceived to be Muslim,” the report says.

Citizenship applications are flagged as threats without informing the individuals, whose applications are delayed and sometimes denied, the organization found.

Little else is known about the program, said Tod Story, executive director of the Nevada ACLU.

“This is one of those programs that has been kept in secret,” he said in January.

The ACLU considers the program a civil rights violation, and says the program shifts authority mostly reserved for Immigration Services to federal law enforcement, in particular the FBI.

“The FBI is not required to tell them they are on the list,” he said. “They basically don’t hear anything from the Immigration Services. They don’t know why their application is in limbo, and nobody has to tell them why.”

Maria Elena Upson, an Immigration Services regional spokeswoman, said her agency is unable to discuss individual cases, and she wouldn’t be able to confirm or deny if local cases had been flagged under the program.

A request to interview Jeanne M. Kent, Immigration Services director in Las Vegas, was denied.

Al Gallmann, director of the agency’s Western District, did not respond to requests for comment.

The FBI did respond, but said only that it “does not originally confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.”

GROUNDS FOR DENIAL

Al-Falahi, at least, was able to find out why his application was denied: Immigration Services officials said records show he gave false testimony about membership in the Baath Party, which ruled Iraq before the 2003 invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein, and his explanation of why he fled his country conflicted with his refugee interview.

During his citizenship interviews, Al-Falahi was asked if he was a member or sympathizer of the Baath Party or any other organization in Iraq.

A transcript of the interview shows he answered, “No, but I have an addition. If you went to (go to) school in Iraq, you must sign for Baath. It’s like a mandatory thing to sign for it.”

He wrote the same thing in a 2008 refugee application he filed in Beirut, and explained that he left because of the war and he needed to provide for his family. Records related to that application say Al-Falahi “states that during his intermediate studies it was required that he join the Baath Party in order to continue his studies.” And although he “registered, he never attended any meetings nor did he make any payments towards the Baath Party.”

That was about 15 years ago, he said, when he was still under his parents’ guardianship in Baghdad.

But Immigration Services said Al-Falahi failed to disclose “previously claimed ties to the Baath Party” during his first citizenship interview. “Failure to disclose your Baath Party membership and provide credible explanation for such was considered false testimony” the denial letter reads.

Story said officials are using Al-Falahi’s owns words to punish him since he disclosed the information, but should instead focus on finding evidence such as donations or records that indicate his client was ever active in the Baath Party.

“I think it’s illustrated as to why the program is problematic,” he said. “That’s why the program has to be reformed; whether it’s reformed by (Immigration Services) or Congress intercedes or the executive branch, somebody needs to do something.”

HE’S NOT ALONE

Nasser Karouni, 45, a Lebanese Muslim who lives in Las Vegas, didn’t know why his citizenship process was different than most people’s until he found out about CARRP.

“That pretty much cleared up many questions,” he said.

He applied in 2011 and passed his citizenship test in 2012, but then went through a three-year nightmare that included a 2012 FBI polygraph interrogation, extra security checks, questioning at airports and no answers. A few weeks after the test, he received a summons to meet the FBI the following day. After an hour of questioning, he agreed to the agent’s request that he sit for a polygraph examination.

“I am clear, I sit down, no problem for me,” he said in broken English.

The Review-Journal obtained a partial transcript of the interview, which is normally considered confidential, that was declassified in 2014. The transcript shows that agents sought information about Hezbollah, a Shiite militant group operating in Lebanon, and Hamas, a Palestinian Islamic political party with an armed wing, and Islamic Jihad.

“No, God forbid,” he responded.

His case languished for two more years, but on Aug. 8, 2014, he became a U.S. citizen.

But his son, Haidar Karouni, 20, is now seeing the same stalling action. He applied to become a U.S. citizen almost a year ago and was fingerprinted in spring 2015, but his case has stalled since.

Under CARRP, applicants are to be labeled a security concern based on national origin or if they have traveled through or resided in areas of “known terrorist activity,” according to the ACLU report.

But for the Karouni family, that means automatic designation even for routine travel such as a family visit to Lebanon last summer or Nasser Karouni’s 2011 pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which is required at least once in the life of all able Muslims.

Applicants also make the security list based on their profession, if they wire money to families in their home countries, if their names appear on an FBI file related to a national security investigation even if they were not the subject of the investigation, or if they have voluntarily given interviews to the FBI, according to the ACLU report.

The Karouni family has lived in Las Vegas since 2006. In April 2009, Nasser Karouni opened Afandi Market and Restaurant on West Charleston Boulevard with his friend Ghazwan Salem, an Iraqi Christian. Karouni’s family had a butcher shop in Lebanon. He met Salem while working at another butcher shop in Las Vegas before the pair decided to open their business.

Salem, who became a U.S. citizen in 1999, said he didn’t experience any issues during the process, has been there for the Karounis through their struggles.

“The story that we lived with his (Karouni’s) situation, we are reliving it with his son,” Salem said. “With his situation we didn’t know what was going on.”

U.S. Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., said she’s aware there is a lack of public access to CARRP data for national security reasons.

Federal officials have said the agency doesn’t track reasons for the delay or denial of an application associated with CARRP; monitor the program on a state-by-state basis; or track religious affiliation of people under review.

“That’s why my office looks at everyone on a case-by-case basis,” Titus said. “We are available to review instances where constituents think they were not given full consideration for legal residency status by (Immigration Services) or other federal agencies.”

Story, the Nevada ACLU official, questioned whether immigration officials can know if CARRP is working if key information isn’t tracked.

“If they can demonstrate that it has worked, it needs to be brought to light,” he said.

Prudhomme said he’s preparing to take Al-Falahi’s case to federal court. His office met with Nevada ACLU officials last week to discuss the case.

The ACLU of Southern California says it might file a class-action suit of which Al-Falahi would be a plaintiff this year.

Follow the Money: UK Gov’t to Investigate Foreign Funding of UK Jihadis

The British government’s new Extremism Analysis Unit [EAU] has been ordered by the Prime Minister to investigate the extent of foreign money used to fund extremist groups in the UK.

The call for the inquiry came from the Liberal Democrat party after the House of Commons voted in favor of extending airstrikes in Syria.

“We call on [the government] to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK,” said Tim Farron, leader of the Lib Dems.

The EAU was established in September 2015, making it a legal duty for universities and colleges in the UK to ban extremists from radicalizing students on campuses and support those at risk of radicalization.

The EAU must also examine overseas revenue streams subsidizing jihadi groups in the UK.

However, reports suggest that the government-led investigation could lead to a potential stand-off between the UK and Saudi Arabia — Britain’s biggest ally in the Middle East.

Saudi Arabia is the UK’s largest single market for British arms and the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review recently outlined Britain’s intentions to continue to work with close allies including “vital partners, such as Saud Arabia, in the Middle East.”

However, Saudi Arabia has been publicly accused by German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel of funding extremist mosques and groups in the West.

“Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany,” Sigmar Gabriel told Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

Wahhabism — a fundamental sect of Sunni Islam, practiced in Saudi Arabia — has inspired terrorist groups, including Daesh, also known as Islamic State, as well as al-Qaeda.

Dutch jihadis from Arnhem captured in Turkey

The Dutch Public Prosecutor announced that two men from the Dutch city of Arnhem presumably traveling to the battle zones of Syria of Iraq were captured in Turkey. The pair had gone missing for an extended period of time.

They belong to a group that is being surveilled on account of their supposed radicalization. Nothing was made known about their identity. In the interest of the investigation the Public Prosecutor has announced it will not elaborate on the exact place or circumstances of the arrest. From the city of Arnhem a considerable number of people have already set out for travel.

One of the arrested people is Abdelkarim el A. (29) also known as Muhajiri Shaam. He was assumed to have died in August in the Syrian city of Aleppo. He appeared in the media last year with a video message from Syria in which he called upon Muslims to carry out ‘a firm and strong act’ against the Dutch government if need be because it is supporting America.

His brother Youssef el A. had to appear in front of a judge recently in the Dutch city of Rotterdam because he was supposed to have transferred money to Abdelkarim. According to the Arnhem mayor Herman Kaiser the amount of jihadis traveling from his municipality has been stable over the past months.

Portrait of Suspect in Boston Is Disputed

Rahimah Rahim, a nurse, had tears in her eyes as she clasped the hand of her eldest son, Ibrahim, formerly a local imam. Behind them stood Usaamah Rahim’s wife, her face shrouded in a black veil.
It was the family’s first public appearance since Mr. Rahim, 26, was killed Tuesday by an F.B.I. agent and a police officer after the authorities said he threatened them with a large knife. A lawyer for the family, Ronald S. Sullivan Jr., said that they knew nothing of his alleged affinity for Islamic extremists, nor of the reported threat to behead police officers.
A Boston imam and the aunt of the 26-year-old Roslindale man killed by police and the FBI on Tuesday say he was not a terrorist and blamed his “murder” on the media, an investigation gone awry and the strained relationship between cops and black men.
 “Usaamah was tuned in a lot with online Islam,” said Yahya Abdullah Rivero, who attended mosque with Mr. Rahim in Miami. “He kept an ear to everything that was mentioned about Islam online. I know he used to listen to some extreme imams online.”
 Robert S. Sullivan Jr., the lawyer for Usaamah Rahim’s family, on Thursday in the CVS parking lot in Boston where Mr. Rahim was killed on Tuesday. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times
Robert S. Sullivan Jr., the lawyer for Usaamah Rahim’s family, on Thursday in the CVS parking lot in Boston where Mr. Rahim was killed on Tuesday. Credit Sean Proctor for The New York Times

Dieudonné Will be Tried in Court for ‘Advocating Terrorism’

French authorities announced an investigation of French comedian Dieudonné for “advocating terrorism” following his Facebook post after the Paris attacks. (Photo: The Telegraph UK)
French authorities announced an investigation of French comedian Dieudonné for “advocating terrorism” following his Facebook post after the Paris attacks. (Photo: The Telegraph UK)

French authorities announced an investigation of French comedian Dieudonné for “advocating terrorism” following his Facebook post after the Paris attacks.

“Tonight, as far as I’m concerned, I feel like Charlie Coulibaly”, the comedian wrote, playing the expression “Je suis Charlie” (“I am Charlie”) off a reference to Friday’s kosher supermarket attacker Amedy Coulibaly.

Minister of the Interior Bernard Cazeneuve referred to the comedian’s remarks as “contemptible” when he visited the heart of Paris’ Jewish community. In response to Cazeneuve’s remarks, Dieudonné said the government is trying to “ruin my life when I am only trying to make people laugh.” He then removed the Facebook post.

Dieudonné is known for creating the quenelle, an inverted Nazi salute. In 2013, French soccer player Nicolas Anelka was suspended for five games for making the hand gesture. The comedian also drew criticism for his post following the rally in Paris attended by over a million people, calling it “a magical moment comparable to the Big Bang.”

The French government has banned Dieudonné’s shows because it considers them anti-Semitic. The comedian will now be tried in court for his remarks and could face between five to seven years in prison and up to an 100,000 euro fine. His lawyer responded to the charges by saying: “We live in the country of freedom of speech?…The government must provide proof.”

In September the court opened an investigation against Dieudonné following a video in which he joked about the beheading of James Foley by ISIS.