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TERRORISM

Panic as French pilgrims mistaken for jihadists

The heightened sense of fear in France of further terror attacks is having some unfortunate effects after three Catholic pilgrims were mistaken for Islamists as they took a breather in a church for a period of reflection.

Panic as French pilgrims mistaken for jihadists

Ever since April’s foiled terror attack on a church near Paris fears have grown that jihadists would target France’s Christian places of worship.

That fear was evident earlier this month when three pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain were mistaken for Islamic radicals by worried churchgoers.

According to a report in local news site Lyon Capitale.fr the three pilgrims popped into a church on the town of Anse, north of Lyon, to enjoy a “spiritual rest”.

But on that day a wedding was being celebrated in the church and the three pilgrims apparently decided to hang around and watch the service.

That raised a few concerns among members of the wedding party, some of whom were panicked enough to call in the police.

The confusion and panic appears to have stemmed from the pilgrims' choice of clothes. Rather than wearing the traditional hiking attire they were “dressed as apostles”, or in other words they were wearing cassocks.

It appears some presumed the pilgrims were wearing the traditional Muslim dress – the djellaba – and presumed the fact they were in church meant they must be Islamic radicals planning an attack.

The reality was of course very different.

“The individuals were not at all aggressive, quite the contrary,” a policeman told LyonCapitale.fr. “They said they were dressed as apostles and were making their way to Santiago de Compostela.

In the end the marriage went ahead as planned and the pilgrims were allowed to go on their way in peace.

Nevertheless the incident does highlight how the French public are on edge over the threat of terrorist attacks.

Following a student’s botched attempt to gun down churchgoers in April the French PM Manuel Valls reiterated government warnings that the country was facing an “unprecedented terrorist threat” and said that 178 Catholic places of worship had already been placed “under specific protection”.

He said also said authorities were mulling how to protect other places of Christian worship.

“Protection of religious sites will be guaranteed, said Valls on Thursday. “Christians and Catholics in France were targeted. They must be able to go to mass in perfect peace.” 

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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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