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IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy

A stolen cutter, CCTV footage, phone taps, loose-tongued suspects... this is how an artwork by famed street artist Banksy painted on the door of the Bataclan club in Paris was discovered in Italy 18 months after being stolen.

IN DEPTH: How police reclaimed a stolen Bataclan Banksy in Italy
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and French ambassador to Italy Christian Masset take part in a handover ceremony of the piece of art attributed to street artist Banksy, that was stolen at th

At 4:00 am on January 26, 2019, three men wearing hoodies and masks take a cutting tool to the metal door of the Bataclan.

It is not just any old door, but the emergency exit of the famous Parisian music venue where 90 people were murdered by Islamic State gunmen on November 13, 2015.

The stencilled white image is of a “sad young girl” in homage to the victims of the Bataclan attack.

It is all over in just a few minutes: the thieves load the door into the back of the Citroen van, whose number plate has been made illegible, according to captured CCTV footage.

“It was an important investigation” for the officers, some of whom had worked on the Bataclan attack, a source close to the case tells AFP.

By “honing in” on phones located in the vicinity of the Bataclan at the time and then along the route taken by the getaway van, tracked using surveillance cameras, police are able to identify and tap the lines.

A year later, police detain three men suspected of breaking into a DIY shop in the Isere department in southeastern France.

A cutting tool is among the stolen objects and one of the suspects boasts of having been involved in a break-in in Paris.

With a link now established between the suspects and the theft of Banksy's “the sad young girl”, police use wire-taps and surveillance to track down the receivers of the stolen artwork.

According to the investigators' findings, the artwork is taken to first to Isere, then to the south of France and from there on to Italy.

'Like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa' 

In Italy, the painting is initially hidden in a hotel in Tortoreto, in the central region of Abruzzo. But when the hotel undergoes renovation work, it is relocated to an abandoned farm in Sant'Omero, some 15 kilometres (nine miles) away.

The hotel's owner, an acquaintance of one of the men suspected of receiving stolen goods, Mehdi Meftah, says he did not know what the bulky package contained.

Police decide to detain the whole gang, but the arrests are hampered by the coronavirus lockdown, the source tells AFP. In a joint operation with Italian police, the investigators seize “the sad young girl” in Abruzzo on June 10.

The attendant publicity forces police to speed up the arrests and a total of nine people are detained in France in the following days.

Two are charged with robbery in an organised gang and another four with receiving stolen goods, including Mehdi Meftah.

 

The 39-year-old, with his bouncer-like looks and tattoos, founded the luxury T-shirt brand “BL1.D”, which has an 18-carat gold ingot sewn into the neckline. He is suspected of ordering the theft.

“His accomplices say he wanted to keep the door for one of his houses,” says the source close to the investigation, acknowledging that trying to re-sell such an artwork would be “very difficult”.

“It would be like trying to re-sell the Mona Lisa,” his lawyer, Yves Sauvayre, tells the weekly newspaper, Journal du dimanche, denying his client had ordered the theft.

“He was presented with a fait accompli. He agreed to take the door in order accepted to help out old acquaintances.

He didn't pay a penny,” the lawyer says. At the moment, the artwork, handed back to France by the Italian authorities, is under seal and is being guarded by Paris police.

Member comments

  1. and really just stenciled graffi at that! banksy proves the saying attributed to PT Barnum “There’s a sucker born every minute”
    but I guess they did steal the door.

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TERRORISM

Historic trial begins in Paris over November 2015 terror attacks

The biggest trial in France's modern legal history begins on Wednesday over the November 2015 attacks on Paris that saw 130 people killed at bars, restaurants, the Stade de France and the Bataclan concert hall.

Historic trial begins in Paris over November 2015 terror attacks
A memorial to the 130 victims of the November 13th attacks in Paris. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

The suicide bombing and gun assault by three teams of jihadists, planned from Syria and later claimed by the Islamic State group, was France’s worst post-war atrocity.

The only surviving attacker, Salah Abdeslam, will be in the dock at the purpose-built facility at the historic court of justice on the Île de la Cité in central Paris, along with 13 other defendants.

Six others are being tried in absentia. Twelve of the 20 people on trial, including Abdeslam, face life sentences if convicted.

“We are entering the unknown,” said Arthur Denouveaux, a survivor of the Bataclan music venue attack and president of Life for Paris, a victims’ association. “We can’t wait for it to start, but we’re asking, How will it be for the next nine months?”

The trial will last until May 2022, with 145 days for hearings involving about 330 lawyers, 300 victims and former president François Hollande, who will testify in November.

The case file runs to a million pages in 542 volumes, measuring 53 metres across.

Justice Minister Eric Dupond-Moretti this week described the trial as “historic” and “one of all superlatives” as he inspected the courtroom.

Surviving gunman Abdeslam, now 31, who was born in Belgium but has French and Moroccan nationality, fled the scene of the carnage after abandoning his suicide belt, which investigators later found to be defective.

He was captured four months later in Brussels, hiding in a building close to his family home.

Abdeslam has resolutely refused to cooperate with the French investigation and remained largely silent throughout a separate trial in Belgium in 2018, where he declared only that he put his “trust in Allah” and that the court was biased.

A major question is whether he will speak at his scheduled testimony, set for mid-January.

Another focus of the trial will be on how the squad of killers managed to enter France undetected, allegedly using the flow of migrants from Islamic State-controlled regions of Syria as cover.

Fourteen of the accused – who face charges ranging from providing logistical support to planning the attacks as well as weapons offences – are expected to be present in court.

They include a Swedish national, Osama Krayem, who Belgian investigators have identified as one of the killers of a Jordanian pilot burned alive in a cage by Isis in early 2015 in Syria. He is also under investigation in Sweden for war crimes.

The alleged coordinator, Belgian national Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed by French police northeast of Paris five days after the attacks.

Of the six tried in absentia, five are presumed dead, mainly in air strikes in Syria.

The horror was unleashed late on the night of Friday, November 13th, when jihadists detonated suicide belts outside the Stade de France stadium where Hollande was in the crowd watching France play a football match against Germany. One man was killed there.

A group of Islamist gunmen, including Abdeslam’s brother Brahim, later opened fire from a car on half a dozen restaurants in the trendy 10th and 11th Arrondissements of the capital, which were packed with people on the balmy autumn evening.

The massacre culminated at the Bataclan music venue. Three jihadists stormed in during a performance, killing a total of 90 people.

While the trial’s initial phase will be devoted to procedural issues, testimonies are expected to begin on September 28th from some 300 survivors and relatives of victims for five weeks of harrowing statements.

Security forces will be on high alert.

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