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TERRORISM

Obama backs France in battle against extremists

US President Barack Obama voiced support Friday for France's military intervention in Mali and vowed to work with French counterpart Francois Hollande to tackle extremism across North Africa.

Obama backs France in battle against extremists
File photo: President Fran├žois Hollande meets his US counterpart Barack Obama in Chicago last year. Jim Watson AFP

The two presidents discussed other "shared security concerns," including Algeria, Libya and Syria, during telephone talks, the White House said in a statement.

"The president expressed his support for France's leadership of the international community's efforts to deny terrorists a safe haven in Mali," it added. Hollande thanked Obama for his "significant support" of the effort.

The US Air Force has deployed C-17 cargo planes to ferry French troops and equipment to northern Mali, where they are trying to help flush out radical Islamist fighters.

The United States also was providing intelligence to Paris, drawing on its network of satellites and surveillance drones.

Paris has asked Washington help with refueling its warplanes taking part in the fight against militant fighters in Mali, but Obama's administration has yet to approve the request.

Obama and Hollande also "emphasized the need to rapidly establish" both an African-led military force in Mali and a "political roadmap that will lead to elections and restoration of democratic governance," the White House said.

The pair "condemned last week's terrorist act in Algeria," referring to the deadly hostage-taking at a natural gas plant, and "affirmed their mutual commitment to countering terrorism more broadly in North Africa."

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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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