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TERRORISM

France: Car attack sparks debate over anti-terror patrols

The latest attack on French anti-terror soldiers sparked debate on Thursday over whether troops should remain on patrol around the country after being repeatedly targeted by extremists.

France: Car attack sparks debate over anti-terror patrols
AFP
On Wednesday, a 36-year-old Algerian man was arrested after a motorway car chase and is suspected of driving a BMW into a group of servicemen in a suburb of Paris earlier in the day, injuring six of them.
  
Named as Hamou B., he was shot five times by police and was recovering in hospital in northern Lille and was not well enough to be questioned, a police source said.
   
The man, a taxi driver, had no previous convictions and was not on France's terror watch list.
   
The incident was the sixth attack on patrolling soldiers since 7,000 troops were ordered onto the streets in January 2015 after an attack by two jihadists on the offices of satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
 
READ ALSO:
Timeline: How jihadists have targeted soldiers and police in France
AFP
 
Leftist lawmaker Clementine Autain charged Thursday that the force is counterproductive, telling French radio: “Most of their operations are aimed at protecting themselves.”
   
The soldiers form part of so-called “Sentinelle” force which patrols French streets and guards high-risk areas such as tourist sites and religious buildings.
   
In one dramatic incident, a 39-year-old man was gunned down at Paris's Orly airport on March 18 after attacking a soldier and shouting: “I am ready to die for Allah.”
   
On February 3, a 29-year-old Egyptian armed with a machete in each hand attacked four soldiers at Paris's Louvre Museum, shouting “Allahu Akbar” (God Is Greatest).
   
Right-wing MP Daniel Fasquelle called for an overhaul of the Sentinelle force.
   
He questioned whether the soldiers were adequately trained for the job of preventing the kind of terror attacks that have claimed more than 230 lives in France.
   
Vincent Desportes, former director of France's military academy the Ecole Superieure de Guerre, told AFP: “Since the beginning they have essentially served as targets.”
 
'Lightning rod'
 
Historian Benedicte Cheron agrees, telling the news magazine Le Point in a recent interview: “Let's face it: Sentinelle is a lightning rod that attracts lightning.”
   
But a lawmaker with the ruling Republic on the Move (REM) party defended the force, saying it “demonstrates the contribution of the French army… to the security of the country.”
   
In Wednesday's incident in the upmarket western Paris suburb of Levallois-Perret, the BMW rolled slowly down a quiet street, then accelerated as it neared the troops, ramming into them before speeding away.
   
Three of the soldiers sustained serious, but not life-threatening injuries.
   
Some 300 police later tracked down the rented vehicle on a motorway near the northern port of Calais, about an hour from Lille where the suspect is in
hospital.
   
Investigators are analysing clues found Wednesday during a search of the suspect's home in the Val d'Oise a suburb northwest of Paris, police said.
   
The Sentinelle force was set up after jihadist gunmen attacked the offices of satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, killing 12, on January 7, 2015.
   
France has been under a state of emergency since the Islamic State attacks in Paris in November 2015, which left 130 people dead.
   
The Islamic State group (IS) has repeatedly targeted France because of its participation in the US-led international coalition fighting the jihadists, with French jets carrying out air strikes in Syria.

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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