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TERRORISM

France ‘ordered Belgium anti-terror raids’ over fear of Bastille Day attack

This week’s counter-terrorist raids in northern France and Belgium were carried out at the request of French authorities who feared another terror attack on the annual July 14th national holiday.

France 'ordered Belgium anti-terror raids' over fear of Bastille Day attack
File photo: AFP

In all five people were arrested during the raids carried out overnight on July 4th, one in northern France and four others in Belgium. They were linked to a radicalized bikers’ club known as the Kamikaze Riders, which has been implicated in terror offences.

Police also discovered an arms cache including Kalashnikovs, handguns and a rifle. Police uniforms were also found.

Although police are not yet aware of any specific plot for a certain date, French authorities – fearing a repeat of last year's Bastille Day terror attack in Nice when a jihadist drove a truck into crowds along the beachfront killing 86 – did not want to take any chances.

“This is a group we have been following for quite some time,” a Belgian police source told L’Express newspaper. “The arrests were carried out at the behest of France, but not because we had knowledge of a specific target.”

“With July 14th approaching, the French did not want to take any risks,” the source said.

It has emerged that 42-year-old man arrested in a suburb of the northern city of Lille is suspected of supplying arms to those arrested in Belgium after he was spotted carrying a bag to a garage in a suburb of the gritty city of Anderlecht, that was rented by two brothers who were suspected members of the Kamikaze riders.

Police in Belgium are still hunting several suspects who were not picked up in this week’s raids. 

Brussels has been on high alert since Islamic State suicide bombers struck the city's airport and metro in March 2016, killing 32 people and injuring hundreds more.

France, also on high alert for terrorist attacks, voted on Thursday to extend its state of emergency for one last time.

The emergency measures, brought in after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris, will run until November 1st after which the government hopes to replace it will a new law aimed at countering the terror threat.

France's Interior Minister Gerrard Collomb said this week that French police and intelligence services had thwarted seven attacks since the beginning of the year.

 

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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