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TERRORISM

Judgement day in France for brother of Jihadist school shooter

A French court will rule on Thursday whether the older brother of a jihadist who shot dead seven people, including three French soldiers and three Jewish children, in 2012 was complicit in the killings.

Judgement day in France for brother of Jihadist school shooter
Gendarmes stand guard upon the arrival of a van of the penitentiary authorities at the Paris court house. Photo:AFP
The trial of Abdelkader Merah, brother of Mohamed Merah, is the first arising out of a wave of violence by mostly homegrown radical Islamists that has claimed the lives of more than 240 people in France in the past five years.
   
Abdelkader is accused of knowingly facilitating his brother's attacks on a Jewish school in the south western city of Toulouse, in which a rabbi, two of the rabbi's children, aged three and five, and an eight-year-old girl were killed.
   
The March 2012 assault, which Merah carried out in the name of Al-Qaeda, was the deadliest on Jews in France in three decades.
 
In a nine-day killing spree, the 23-year-old also shot dead three soldiers in the garrison town of Montauban before being killed by police after a 32-hour siege at his home.
 
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Brother of French jihadist fights radicalisation
Abdelghani Merah, who is trying to make sure no one becomes like his brother Mohamed. Photo: AFP 
 
Investigators believe Abdelkader — who neighbours nicknamed “Ben Ben” over his admiration for Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden — had considerable influence over his brother.
 
The 35-year-old, who lived in the high-rise Toulouse suburb of Les Izards, was known to police for links to ultraconservative Salafist groups.
   
He admitted to being present when his brother stole a scooter that was used in the attacks, but denied any knowledge of his intentions.
   
The trial lifted the lid on a dysfunctional family, in which three of five children born to Algerian immigrant parents came under the spell of radical Islamists.
 
French prosecutors seek life in jail for brother of jihadist who killed Jewish childrenPhoto: AFP   
 
Both Abdelkader and Mohamed spent time in prison for acts of delinquency — an experience that radicalised the younger Merah and left him thirsting for revenge against France.
   
In 2011, he travelled to the lawless tribal regions of Pakistan near the border with Afghanistan to join the Qaeda-affiliated Jund al-Khalifa.
   
Returning to France, he was questioned by intelligence services but insisted his trip had been solely for tourism.
 
'Terrorism symbol'
 
The families of Merah's victims have been pinning their hopes for justice on the trial of Abdelkader, who defended his brother in 2012, declaring: “Every Muslim would like to give his life to kill his enemy.”
   
Prosecutors have presented him as the real brains behind the attacks and called for him to be given life in prison, without possibility of parole for 22 years.
   
Merah's lawyers have urged the jury not to make him a scapegoat for his brother's crimes to satisfy the public thirst for a conviction.
   
“Don't make him a symbol of terrorism, make him a symbol of our justice system,” lawyer Antoine Vey urged during Tuesday's summing up.
   
A friend and fellow defendant of Abdelkader's, Fettah Malki, is also charged with complicity in the attacks for supplying Mohamed Merah with a machine gun and a bullet-proof vest.
   
Prosecutors have called for him to be given a 20-year sentence.

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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