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TERRORISM

Jihadist group delivers chilling threat to France

The jihadist group believed to be behind the deadly hostage siege in Algeria has issued a series of alarming threats against France, warning that last week’s mass kidnapping at the In Amenas gas plant was “only the beginning.”

Jihadist group delivers chilling threat to France
An undated grab from a video reportedly shows former Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) emir Mokhtar Belmokhtar, who has claimed responsibility for the mass kidnapping in Algeria. Photo AFP/HO/ANI

Speaking to French weekly Paris Match, the spokesman for the cell known as "Those Who Sign In Blood", which is headed by notorious Mokhtar Belmokhtar said "French crusaders, Zionist Jews and their minions, will pay for their aggression against Muslims in northern Mali."

In a warning deliberately aimed to stir up fear in France, the spokesman, who called himself Joulaybib, said there would be repeats of recent terror attacks carried out on French soil by self-proclaimed Islamist extremists.

“I hope France realizes that there will be dozens of Merahs and Kelkals," Joulaybib said.

Mohamed Merah was the 23-year-old French-Algerian gunman who caused terror throughout France in March 2012, when he killed seven people, including three French soldiers, a rabbi and three Jewish schoolchildren in the south-western cities of Toulouse and Montauban. Khaled Khelkal was an Algerian terrorist who took part in a series of bomb attacks on the Paris metro in 1995.

Joulaybib, a Mauritanian national whose real name, according to Paris Match, is Hacen Ould Khalil, also promised that “the In Amenas attack is only the beginning."

Speaking by telephone, the Islamist spokesman also laid out the hostage-takers' three demands; an end to the French offensive against Islamist militants in Mali, the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdel-Rahman, currently imprisoned in the US for his role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, and the release of Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist serving an 86-year jail sentence in the US.

Former intelligence agency officer Yves Trotignon told The Local France should be more concerned about the threat from individual extremists acting alone than from foreign terror networks like Belmokhtar's.

"The real fear is that individuals, who have their own causes, take matters into their own hands. I am doubtful Belmokhtar can launch an attack on French soil because these people are not as well connected as they were in the 1980s. The networks are not there anymore," Trotignon, who now works for international security specialists Risk & Co said.

The conversation – reported in the magazine on Monday – took place at the height of last week's hostage crisis, before an Algerian government raid on the complex brought it to a bloody end on January 19th. The latest death toll given by Algerian authorities said 38 hostages (all but one of them foreign) and 29 hostage takers died in the siege.

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TERRORISM

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.

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