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TERRORISM

Muslim singer forced to quit French ‘The Voice’ show over terror posts

A French Muslim singer who became an overnight star after dazzling judges on a TV talent show quit the contest on Friday after coming under fire for past Facebook comments about terror attacks.

Muslim singer forced to quit French 'The Voice' show over terror posts
Screenshot from a video Mennel Ibitssem posted to Facebook.
Mennel Ibtissem, a 22-year-old student who wears a head wrap, was one of the top contestants on The Voice, where her English and Arabic version of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah caused a sensation.
 
But within days of Saturday's performance she was under pressure to bow out over old Facebook messages that appeared to question the terrorist nature of attacks that claimed scores of lives in France in 2016.
 
The posts have been deleted but screen grabs of the remarks have been circulated on far-right websites.
 
In one post after the July 2016 truck attack in the city of Nice, in which 86 people were killed, she said: “Here we go, it's become a routine, an attack a week, and, as usual, the 'terrorist' takes his ID with him. It's true that when you're plotting something nasty you never forget to take your papers with you.”
 
She was referencing a series of jihadist assaults in France in which police quickly named the killers through documents found on their bodies, including the 2015 Paris attacks that killed 130 people.
 
In another post, days after two jihadists slit the throat of a priest in his Normandy church, she wrote: “The real terrorists are our government.”
 
The singer had apologized over the remarks, saying members of her family had been celebrating Bastille Day in Nice when the driver struck and that she had been “upset” by the failure of the authorities to prevent the attack. But the apology failed to quell the controversy.
 
'Never meant to hurt' –
 
With private broadcaster TF1 under pressure to pull her out of the competition, including from relatives of the victims of the Nice attack, she quit on Friday.
 
“I never meant to hurt anyone and the mere thought that my remarks hurt others hurts me, so I have taken the decision to quit this adventure,” she said in a Facebook video that has been viewed over 860,000 times. An English-language version was also posted:
 
 
The production company behind The Voice, ITV Studios France, said that despite her earlier apology the atmosphere on the show had become “too heavy” and hoped her decision to withdraw would “soothe tensions”. But some of her fans expressed disappointment, amid allegations of anti-Muslim bias.
 
On Ibtissem's Facebook page, Jihene Ferchiou wrote: “We must not delude ourselves. Your turban, your religion, your origins were the obstacle.  Clearly we have reached an unprecedented level of racism in France. It's a disgrace.”
 
 
By AFP's Clare Byrne

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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