Last Friday (3 February), another attempted terrorist attack took place in Paris, when French soldiers shot and critically wounded a man who attacked them with a machete at the Louvre while shouting “Allah Akbar”. Reportedly, a group of four soldiers guarding the entrance of the Louvre shopping centre had refused him to entry with two backpacks. When the troops stopped him, he launched the attack, wounding one of the soldiers. Hundreds of visitors were inside the museum after the incident and were evacuated. According to the police, the man has been identified as Abdullah Reda Refaei al-Hamamy, a 29-year-old with Egyptian identity paper who arrived in France last month.
After initially refusing to talk, the man, who remains under arrest in hospital, has confirmed his identity. Agence France-Presse has reported that Hamamay had visited Turkey in 2015 and 2016. Afterwards, he entered in France on 26 January on a flight from Dubai and stayed at an apartment costing € 1,700 (£ 1,470) a week near the Champs Elysees that had been reserved last June, months before he applied for a tourist visa in October.
The man’s father, a retired Egyptian police general, said his son had never shown any signals of radicalisation. He said his son is a sale manager and also justified his stay in Paris as a business trip. According to his family, Hamamy was expected to go back to the Emirates soon, as he has a wife and a seven-months old son and they have accused French authorities of seeking to justify their shooting with false allegations.
No group has claimed the attempted attack so far, and no link to extremism was found during a search of the apartment. Moreover, after few days, Hamamy has broken the silence about his intentions, claiming that he acted of his own will and intended only to damage works of art at the gallery as a symbolic attack on France.
However, investigators do not fully believe his statements after they found out a series of tweets posted in Arabic few minutes be fore the assault was launched. In those posts, in which he exalted Allah and the creation of an Islamic State, he does not refer to ISIS by its Arabic acronym, Daesh, but used the phrase “Dawlat al-Islam”, which is commonly used to refer to the group’s territories by its supporters.
Egyptian officials, who are collaborating with French authorities, have declared that local security agencies are gathering information to help establish if he was a member of any militant groups or had been radicalised in the past. In the meantime, President Francois Holland has labelled the act as “clearly an act of terrorism” and prosecutors in Paris said they would ask judges to file preliminary charges of “attempted terrorist murder” and “terrorist criminal conspiracy”.
Since 2012 the country has struggled against Islamic terrorism, which has already caused 250 victims. A French mayor and member of the French National Assembly, Jaques Myard, has blamed the Schengen agreement, which allows traveling throughout much of the EU without border-controls. According to Mayard, France is in a dark place, as it has to face to threats: the threat of terrorists coming from abroad, and an internal threat, because of its large Muslims community. He reiterated that, although not all Muslims of course are radicals, over 10,000 of those could be radicalised across France. In those conditions it is impossible to really prevent anything, since it is impossible to have 100 per cent security everywhere. The only possible thing for citizens to do, Mayard added, is to be vigilant and always on guard, alerting the police every time they see something suspicious.
On 26 September, French President Francois Hollande stated that France will completely shut down “the Jungle” migrant camp in Calais and called on London to help deal with the plight of thousands of people whose dream is ultimately to get to Britain.
Speaking during a visit to the northern port city, where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria live in squalor, President Hollande stated that “the situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it,” adding, “we must dismantle the camp completely and definitively.” While France is planning to relocate the migrants in small groups across the country, right-wing opponents of the Socialist leader are raising the heat ahead of next year’s election, accusing the French leader of mismanaging a problem that is ultimately a British one.
While the migrants in Calais want to enter Britain, the UK government is arguing that migrants seeking asylum need to do so under European Union (EU) law in the country where they enter. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britain’s vote in June to leave the EU, and it is likely that the issue will be a major factor in France’s presidential election next year. If France stopped trying to prevent migrants from entering Britain, Britain would ultimately find itself obliged to deal with the matter when asylum-seekers land on its shores a short distance by ferry or subsea train from France’s Calais coast. President Hollande reminded Britain of this, stating that he expects London to fully honour agreements on managing the flow of migrants. London and Paris have struck agreements on issues such as the recently begun construction of a giant wall on the approach road to Calais port in an attempt to try to stop migrants who attempt daily to board cargo trucks that are bound for Britain.
In response to Monday’s comments by the French leader, a British government spokesman stated that “what happens in the Jungle is ultimately a matter for the French authorities, what they choose to do with it.” The spokesman further disclosed that “our position is very clear: we remain committed to protecting the shared border that we have in Calais,” adding, ‘the work that we do with France to maintain the security of that border goes on and will go on, irrespective of what happens to the Jungle camp.”
On Wednesday, French MP’s voted overwhelming to change state-of-emergency provisions in the constitution, which were drawn up after the November 2015 terror attacks in Paris.
The lower house voted 317-199 in order to adopt the package of measures, which includes changes to give a new status under the constitution to the state of emergency, which is currently in force. There were 51 abstentions. The package of measures also allows terror convicts to be stripped of their citizenship. The package will now go to the Senate before a meeting of the joint houses of parliament. It needs support from the Senate and will then have to be approved by a two-thirds vote of a joint session of parliament, which is likely to take weeks or months. Nevertheless, Wednesday’s vote is a significant victory for the French government, which has faced opposition from leading voices, and some from amongst its own ranks. Speaking shortly after the vote, Prime Minister Manuel Valls disclosed that he was “satisfied” with the result and that he was confident that senators would also approve the changes.
In the wake of the 13 November 2015 terror attacks in Paris by gunmen and suicide bombers who targeted a concert hall, a major stadium, restaurants and bars, leaving 130 people dead and hundreds wounded, French President Francois Hollande promised changes as his government seeks to ensure the French people that they are safe, despite growing threats and several previous attacks and thwarted attempts.
Several government officials however are opposed to the new changes. Two weeks ago, France’s left-wing justice minister, Christian Taubira, resigned, citing a “major political disagreement” with the government. She was amongst several political figures who objected to the government’s proposals because they singled out those with dual nationality. Despite the opposition, government whips have indicated that they are confident of a majority in the lower house. However it must be noted that even if they are correct, there is still a long parliamentary battle that lies ahead.
Under the current terms of the state of emergency, which has been in place since 13 November, police are allowed to raid homes and hold people under house arrest. The state of emergency is due to expire on 26 February, however the government wants the powers extended. Under Article 1 of the constitutional reform proposals, MP’s will have to approve a state of emergency beyond twelve days. This rule is already observed, but including it in the constitution is intended to protect it from legal challenges. MP’s have also backed an amendment requiring any extension beyond four months to be referred back to them. On Tuesday, the chamber was only a quarter full during the vote, with 441 deputies absent out of a total of 577. The house later voted through the proposal on nationality however the amendment does not mention dual nationality.
The French government confirmed this week that authorities in France are investigating claims that French peacekeepers operating in Central African Republic (CAR) sexually abused children. French President Francois Hollande has vowed to “show no mercy” if French peacekeepers in the CAR are found guilty of raping children in exchange for food and money.
On Wednesday, a statement released by the French defense ministry disclosed that the French government “was made aware at the end of July 2014 by the UN’s high commission for human rights of accusations by children that they had been sexually abused by French soldiers.” The statement further disclosed that Paris prosecutors opened an investigation shortly afterwards, adding, “the defense ministry has taken and will take the necessary measures to allow the truth to be found… If the facts are proven, the strongest penalties will be imposed on those responsible for what would be an intolerable attack on soldiers’ values.”
Officials at the ministry have disclosed that the abuse was alleged by around ten children and reportedly occurred at a centre for internally displaced people near the airport of the capital Bangui between December 2013 and June 2014. Sources have reported that children as young as nine were involved and that some were abused in exchange for food and money. An internal UN report has suggested that troops from France, Chad and Equatorial Guinea are implicated. The UN report suggests that at least 13 French soldiers, two soldiers from Equatorial Guinea and three Chadian troops were involved in the alleged abuse. According to a French judicial source, some of the French soldiers have been identified however none have been questioned on the matter. Officials from Chad and Equatorial Guinea have not yet commented on the allegations.
UN spokesman Farhan Haq has confirmed that its rights investigators conducted a probe last year after “serious allegations” of child abuse and sexual exploitation by French troops had emerged, adding that it has suspended a staff member for leaking the report in July.
If these allegations are confirmed, this will likely have severe implications on the French mission deployed in the CAR, as well as on the Central African country, which continues to struggle to maintain security.
On Thursday, French President Francois Hollande will embark on a trip to three former colonies in West Africa. The official tour comes as his country puts the finishing touches to a military operation aimed at combatting extremist violence in the Sahel region. On Sunday, France’s Defense Minister announced that the country will end its military offensive in Mali, effectively replacing it with a new operation, codenamed Barkhane, which will involve some 3,000 French troops and which will span the largely lawless Sahel region. However in a sign that tensions in Mali are far from over, on Monday the French Defense Ministry confirmed that a French legionnaire died in a suicide attack near the northern town of Gao. This is the ninth casualty that France has suffered in the West African nation.
According to the President’s office, Hollande’s upcoming visit will include stops in the Ivory Coast, Niger and Chad, which is where Barkhane’s headquarters will be located. The French president will begin his African tour in Abidjan, the commercial capital of the Ivory Coast, which is currently on the economic rebound after experiencing a decade of unrest that was sparked by a failed coup in 2002. He will then visit Niger, which includes a stop at a French military base from which surveillance drones are deployed within the region. According to a source close to Hollande, because Niger is surrounded by restive areas – Nigeria to the south, Libya to the north, and Mali to the west – the president will “continue strategic talks on all these crisis areas surrounding the country and establish how we can collaborate to ensure better security in the region.” In the Chadian capital N’Djamena, Hollande will visit the headquarters of Operation Barkhane, which apart from troops, will also mobilize drones, helicopters, fighter jets, armored vehicles and transport planes.
France announced Sunday that its military offensive in Mali will now be replaced by an operation that will focus on the wider and largely lawless Sahel region, and will aim at combatting extremist violence, which is now threatening the entire area.
During a television interview Sunday, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian announced that President Francois Hollande “…wanted a reorganization of our troops in the Sahel zone.” France’s Serval offensive was launched in January last year and saw French troops deploy to aid Malian soldiers in stopping al-Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg rebels from descending further south and advancing on the capital Bamako. While France had initially planned to end operation Serval in May, and redeploy troops to the Sahel region to fight al-Qaeda-linked terrorist groups, renewed clashes between rebels and the army in the northeastern town of Kidal effectively forced officials in Paris to delay the pull out.
While the French-led Serval operation, which saw nine soldiers die over a period of eighteen months, has widely been deemed a success by the international community, Le Drian indicated that the concern has now shifted to the vast Sahel region, noting the operation aims “to make sure there is no upsurge (in terrorism) as there are still major risks that jihadists will develop in the zone that goes from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau,” adding “the aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security.”
The new “counter-terrorism” operation, which has been codenamed Barkhane, will launch in the coming days and is being implemented in partnership with five countries including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. Some 3,000 French soldiers will take part in the operation in which 1,000 will remain in the northern regions of Mali while the rest will be deployed in the four other countries. Drones, helicopters, fighters jets, armored vehicles and transport planes will be used in the operation, with the headquarters stationed in the Chadian capital, N’Djamena.
Suicide Attack in Northern Mali
Meanwhile, in what is a sign that security in northern Mali remains fragile, France’s Defense Ministry confirmed Tuesday that a French legionnaire has been killed in a suicide attack in northern Mali. This brings the number of soldiers killed in Mali since 2013 to nine.
A statement released by the Defense Ministry indicated that Serbian-born Dejvid Nikolic, 45, who held French nationality and was part of the Genie 1st regiment, “fell victim to a suicide attack” about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from the northern town of Gao on Monday. A suicide bomber in a car targeted French troops who were on a security mission in the Al Moustarat region north of Gao. Seven soldiers were injured in the attack and Nikolic died of his wounds on Monday evening. He had been a legionnaire for more than twenty-five years and served in several hot spots, including Afghanistan and Lebanon. He had also worked in Africa, notably in Gabon and Djibouti. The Defense Ministry stated that his currently mission was his eight abroad. News of the death of the French soldier comes just days before President Francois Hollande is due to travel to West Africa as France prepares to redeploy some of its troops from Mali to the wider and largely lawless Sahel region in a bid to combat extremist violence.