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SECURITY

What we know of Frenchman’s ‘plot to attack Euro 2016’

Ukraine intelligence services claimed on Monday they had thwarted a plot to carry out a wave of attacks at Euro 2016. As skeptical French authorities investigate those claims, here’s what we know.

What we know of Frenchman's 'plot to attack Euro 2016'
Ukraine says a Frenchman with far right views was intending to attack Euro 2016. Photo: AFP

What was the plot?

According to the chief of Ukraine’s intelligence agency SBU, a Frenchman was planning to carry out as many as 15 terror attacks “before and during Euro 2016 , which starts on June 10th and runs until July 10th.

The agency’s chief Vasyl Hrytsak said the alleged plotter planned to blow up “a Muslim mosque, a Jewish synagogue, tax collection organisations, police patrol units and numerous other locations.”

Who was the man behind the alleged plot?

He has been named in France as 25-year-old Gregoire Moutaux, though his name has not been officially confirmed. He comes from a little village in eastern France called Nant-le-Petit, which is home to around 80 residents.

What do we know about him?

Moutaux worked as an “inseminator” for a local farming cooperative in the Bas-Rhine department, in the Grand-Est region of France near the German border. He often had reason to travel to Ukraine for his job.

In terms of his background the local prosecutor Dominique Pensalfini-Demorise described him as a “nice kid, intelligent, friendly and always willing to help”.

“He's a rather nice guy, who I think is actually rather well-educated. I've even invited him over for a glass of wine. I just can't understand this,” neighbour Jean-Jacques Renck told France 3 TV.

During searches of his police reportedly found a T-shirt bearing the emblem of an extreme right group in France. Some media reports that balaclavas and explosive materials were also found in his flat, although this remains unconfirmed. 

The SBU’s Grytsak also said the suspect “expressed negative views about his government's approach to the immigration of foreigners into France, the spread of Islam and globalisation,” hence the reason this is being talked about as a possible extreme right terror plot.

How was he caught?

Grytsak said his service became aware in December that a French national had arrived in Ukraine and “began to establish contacts with a number of representatives in the (pro-Russian separatist) east.”

Ukraine's eastern war zone has been awash with arms since an insurgency against the pro-Western government in Kiev erupted in April 2014,

Grytsak said the arrest was made on May 21st when the man was trying to cross into Poland near the Ukrainian frontier town of Yagodyn.

“He obtained five Kalashnikov rifles, more than 5,000 bullets, two anti-tank grenade launchers, 125 kilogrammes (275 pounds) of TNT, 100 detonators, 20 balaclavas and other things,” said the Ukrainian intelligence chief.

The video below claims to show his arrest in Ukraine as he tried to cross the border. He was pulled out a car with another individual who has not been named.

How do we know he was planning terror attacks?

Other than the statements coming out of Ukraine, we don’t really know anything for certain about the alleged plot.

There were reports in France on Monday that suggested French authorities were actually skeptical about the claims from Ukraine.

The Interior Ministry in Paris was apparently treating them with caution. Tellingly France’s specialist counter terrorist investigators have not been put in charge of the probe.

Currently that is in the hands of the unit that deals with arms trafficking in the eastern city of Nancy. That suggests that for the moment the French still suspect the Gregoire Moutaux may just have been planning to sell the arms on the black market once he was back in France, rather than carry out the reported 15 terror attacks.

Nevertheless it is expected that the French authorities will demand the suspect be extradite, after which more will become clear.

Is there a real terror threat from the far right in France?

Whether this turns out to be a confirmed plot by an individual with far right links or not, there is a clear threat according to French authorities.

In May the head of internal security in France Patrick Calvar spoke to lawmakers in the French parliament of the risk of terror attacks from the minority groups from the extreme right.

“Europe is in great danger,” Calvar said. “Extremists are gaining ground everywhere and we are in the process of moving resources to look at the ultra-right, who are looking for a confrontation.”

He told deputies that the threat from these groups was being taken very seriously.

“It is our responsibility to anticipate and block all those groups who would, at one time or another, try to trigger clashes among communities.”

French terror expert Jean-Charles Brisard told The Local on Monday that the details of the plot were worrying but said the French counter terrorist authorities will not underestimate the terror threat from the extreme right.

“They will not only be looking at the threat from Islamist extremists,” Brisard said.

He expressed caution saying it was far too early to speculate about the plot and the motives. But we can expect more information to be revealed in the coming days.

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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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