France’s ‘chief Isis recruiter’ to go on trial

A French national, known as an Isis executioner and the man who trains French citizens to become killers, will go on trial in Paris this week, albeit in absentia. Some suspect he was the real ringleader of the Paris terror attacks.

France's 'chief Isis recruiter' to go on trial
Salim Benghalem. Photo: AFP
Salim Benghalem, an Isis 'chief executioner' will go on trial for his alleged part in running a recruitment network for the terror group. 
Although Benghalem won't be present given that he is believed to be in Syria, five other people, who will all be in the courtroom, will face a judge for their alleged part in the network run by Benghalem.
Some suspect Benghalem was the real ringleader of the Paris terror attacks and the instructor of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, who was killed by police in a raid just days after the attacks. 
Benghalem, who is believed to have been the target of recent French air strikes in Syria, is listed as a “foreign terrorist combatant” by the United States, and is known to French intelligence services for his “active participation in combat” in Syria, a security source told AFP in September.
He came to the attention of French authorities for his involvement in the Buttes-Chaumont network of would-be jihadists in Paris that included Said and Cherif Kouachi, who carried out the attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine in January.
Benghalem was imprisoned in 2007 for his part in gang violence, and was released in 2010, after which he is thought to have travelled to Yemen, a security source said.
The man grew up in Cachan, near Paris, and mysteriously fled his family to start a new life in Syria in 2013.
The man's wife spoke with Le Parisien on condition of anonymity, and said that her husband became “fatalistic and insensitive to death” after leaving France.
“Salim told me that if he returned, it would be try and cause maximum damage,” she told the paper.
She said that her husband had told her that the damage wouldn't be made via a bombing, rather “a series of attacks”. 
Tuesday's trial opens as France remains in a state of high alert after the terror attacks carried out by French and Belgian citizens, some of whom had travelled to Syria. 


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.