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BEHEADING

France to beef up security in public places

UPDATED: France announced on Thursday that it will beef up security in public places and on public transport in the wake of the "cowardly" beheading of a French tourist by jihadists in Algeria. France has also told its nationals in 40 countries to be vigilant.

France to beef up security in public places
File photo of French soldiers patrolling the Sacré Coeur in Paris. France has decided to boost security in the wake of the beheading of a French tourist in Algeria. Photo: AFP

After an emergency meeting with his defence council on Thursday, the presidential palace announced that security would be stepped up in the wake of the “barbaric execution” of Gourdel. It also widened its vigilance alert for its citizens to cover 40 countries.

The move also comes days after Isis Islamic extremists called on Muslims to target the French and citizens of other countries that have joined the US-led coalition to fight the jihadist organization, branding the French “dirty” and “spiteful”. 

On Thursday Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said the beheading calls for a “strong response abroad and at home to protect our citizens.”

Following the meeting a statement from the Elysée said: “All France is in mourning after the barbaric execution of our compatriot Hervé Gourdel.

“This crime must not go unpunished. In these tragic circumstances, national unity is an imperative. As individuals and groups who seek to weaken us by dividing us, we must oppose them with the strength of our cohesion and a reaffirmation of our values. 

“Preventive measures against terrorist risks implemented in the country will be strengthened in public places and transport.”

There was no announcement however over a plan to up the warning level of France’s national security alert system, known as “Vigipirate”.

The system, which has existed since the mid-90s when Paris was hit be terrorist attacks, is currently at level four out of five.

A police source told Le Parisien newspaper recently , there is no desire to up the threat level, “even though it could be justified” because it would increase the anxiety of the French people, “which is exactly what Isis is hoping to achieve”. 

Paris also said Thursday it had widened its vigilance alert for nationals abroad from 31 to 40 countries including Asian nations, after a French hostage was beheaded in Algeria by jihadists linked to
the Islamic State group.

“We have extended the call (for vigilance) to some 10 more countries,” Didier Le Bret, head of the foreign ministry's crisis centre, told AFP, adding Muslim countries in Asia were now included.

France has also pledged to continue its bombing raids against Isis targets in Iraq and increase its support for Syrian opposition fighters.
 
“France is ready to provide support to all states, at their request to allow the rapid implementation of the necessary measures,” said the statement from the Elysée.
 
The president also said the anti-terror bill moving through parliament will also help in the fight against jihadists.

Hollande also pledged “determination, composure and vigilance” in the face of jihadi threats at an emergency cabinet meeting and announced that flags nationwide would be flown at half-mast for three days from Friday to mourn the loss of the 55-year-old mountaineer.

“Faced with this threat, we need national unity,” he told the meeting, according to government spokesman Stephane Le Foll, who also announced France had carried out air strikes in restive Iraq on Thursday morning – the second in the space of a week.

France opposed the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq but was one of the first to sign up for an active role in the campaign against the group that has rampaged through large areas of Iraq and Syria.

Paris has six Rafale fighter jets and just under 1,000 soldiers based in the United Arab Emirates, and on Friday carried out its first air strike on IS targets in Iraq, destroying a logistics depot.

Earlier Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has said, “everything would be looked at again,” including “what we want to do in Iraq and what will happen in Syria.”

France has vowed to conduct aerial operations against Iraq in support of local forces fighting Isis but has stressed it will not deploy ground troops, nor will it expand operations to Syria, as the United States has done.

US, Saudi and Emirati warplanes bombed oil installations in eastern Syria overnight in a bid to cut off a significant source of funding for the Isis group.

However, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian seemed to open the door to possible action in neighbouring Syria, telling French radio on Thursday it was “a question that had to be asked.”

Nevertheless, the minister stressed it was “an opportunity that is not on the table today. We have an important task to carry out in Iraq.”

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BEHEADING

‘Jihadist’ who beheaded boss commits suicide

A Frenchman who killed his boss and pinned his severed head to a fence at an industrial gas factory has committed suicide in his jail cell, prison authorities said on Wednesday.

'Jihadist' who beheaded boss commits suicide
Yassin Salhi is lead away by police. Photo: AFP

Yassin Salhi, 35, hanged himself from the bars of his cell using his bedsheets on Tuesday night, according to authorities at Fleury-Merogis prison, in the southern suburbs of Paris.

The driver and deliveryman carried out the grisly attack on employer Herve Cornara in Isere, southeastern France in June, displaying his boss's head outside the plant surrounded by Islamic flags.

He tried to blow up the facility but was arrested and remanded in custody.

Salhi had been placed in solitary confinement but was not considered a suicide risk. He had always disavowed any religious motive for his crime, but prosecutors were pressing charges of Islamic-related terrorism.

The married father-of-three was born in the eastern French town of Pontarlier, near the border with Switzerland, to a father of Algerian origin and a mother with a Moroccan background.

Salhi caught the attention of intelligence authorities in 2005 and 2006 because he was socialising with a group of people associated with radical Islam, a source close to the case told AFP in June.

Intelligence services investigated him for a few years thereafter, but did not renew their inquiry in 2008.

He popped up again on the intelligence services' radar in 2013 because he  was associating with people suspected of links to radical Islam.

At the time he wore a beard and a traditional North African robe called a djellaba.

France is on high alert after a state of emergency was declared in the wake of last month's Paris attacks, when a group of Islamic extremists killed 130 people.

A jihadist plot was foiled last week in the French region of Orleans, southwest of Paris, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said Tuesday, as the government prepared constitutional changes to enshrine emergency police powers.