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TERRORISM

Who is the man guiding jihadist attacks in France?

Rachid Kassim used to supervise youths, but now he's supervising jihadists, some of whom were responsible for recent terror attacks and plots in France.

Who is the man guiding jihadist attacks in France?
Photo: AFP
What is his background?
 
Kassim is a 29-year-old father-of-three who hails from Roanne, in the Loire region.
 
He once worked as a supervisor at a social centre, where according to Le Parisien newspaper he worked in a canteen and looked after children.
 
But he soon began to show leanings towards terrorism, most notably at first when he recorded a rap album in 2009 where one of the songs was called “Terrorist”. The chorus repeated the phrase “I am a terrorist”.
 
When he returned to France from a trip to Algeria in 2011, a distinct change was noted by those close to him, some of whom said that he became obsessed with the Koran, reported Le Dauphiné Libéré newspaper.   
 
He stopped smoking, grew out his beard, and asked for a prayer room at his work place.
 
A year later, he moved with his wife and children to Egypt and is understood to have become a fully-fledged member of the Islamic State group Isis.
 
It remains unknown exactly where he is now, although it is understood to be either in Syria or Iraq. 
 
What has he been linked to in France?
 
Kassim has been linked to the double murder of two police officers in Magnanville in June, as well as to the brutal slaying of the priest in Saint-Etienne du Rouvray, near Rouen in July. 
 
He has also been linked to the 15-year-old boy arrested on Sunday on suspicion of plotting a knife attack on people in Paris.
 
He was connected to at least one of the women arrested last week over a car found abandoned a week ago near Notre Dame cathedral in Paris. 
 
“Women, sisters have moved to attack. Where are the brothers?… She brandished a knife and she hit a policeman… Where are the men?” he said on social media, according to Le Monde, after one of the women stabbed a police officer during her arrest.
 
In all of these cases, his involvement is understood to have been remote. 
 
How does he operate?
 
Kassim has regularly appeared in Isis propaganda videos calling for attacks on French targets.
 
He appeared in a video praising the attack in Nice that left almost 90 people dead after a truck ploughed into a crowd of Bastille Day revellers. 
 
He is known to frequent the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is how authorities found that he was connected to the recent attacks. 
 
According to Europe 1, Kassim can operate in online groups of up to 300 people where he will encourage people to carry out hate crimes and attacks. 
 
He is understood to give precise targets and ideas for how to carry out attacks on them, the paper added. 

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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