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Observations of an Expat: Bataclan Trial

Observations of an Expat: Bataclan Trial

1500 “civilian plaintiffs”—surviving victims and family members of the dead—are scheduled to give five weeks of testimony about the horror of the attack on Friday the 13th 2015 and its life-changing consequences.

By Tom Arms

The Bataclan Trial which opened this week in Paris has huge domestic and international significance.

Domestically, it will be an act of national catharsis. 1,500 “civilian plaintiffs”—surviving victims and family members of the dead—are scheduled to give five weeks of testimony about the horror of the attack on Friday the 13th November 2015 and its life-changing consequences.

The bulk of the nine-month trial, however, will focus on the details of the attack on the Bataclan Theatre, the Stade de France and the street cafes of the 10th and 11th arondissements, and the origins and planning of the operation.  The latter will be closely followed by intelligence agencies around the world for information to help identify and defeat future attacks.

And there is a lot of evidence from the Gendarmerie, the Direction General de la Securite Exterieure  (DGSE), Direction Generale de la Securite Interieure (DGSI) and Service Central de Territorial (SCRI).

French Intelligence and French and Belgian police have spent six years compiling evidence in 19 different countries. 47,000 depositions have been taken and 52 volumes of evidence have been set before the judges at the historic Palais de Justice.

Some of the evidence has leaked. For instance, it is known that the attack was conceived and planned in the upper echelons of the ISIS command based in Raqqa, Syria. Carefully chosen “commandos” were smuggled into Europe through Turkey disguised as refugees from the Syrian Civil War.

The destination of these Jihadists was the impoverished and overcrowded Brussels district of Molenbeek. Roughly 25 percent of Molenbeek’s 100,000-strong population is Muslim. The unemployment rate is 40 percent.  There is strong support in the district for Jihadism and it has been used as a base for several terrorist attacks in France and Belgium. Its own mayor has described Molenbeek as “a breeding ground for violence.”

In Molenbeek the Jihadists did their final planning for the attack that left 130 dead and hundreds wounded. Weapons were gathered, suicide bombs assembled, transport and finance arranged and the Jihadists were assigned their specific roles. As part of the six-year investigation into the attack, security forces interviewed 22,668 individual Molenbeek inhabitants—virtually the entire Muslim population. As a result they discovered 52 people who were directly involved in terrorism and another 75 who had terrorist connections and were put on the watch list.

As with most Jihadist terrorist attacks, the “commandos” did not expect to return from Paris. It was a suicide mission. The one exception was  Salah Abdelsalam. He survived. He was expected to blow himself up with a suicide bomb vest, but the bomb was defective. He threw the vest away and fled back to his Molenbeek sanctuary where he was arrested by police three months later.

Abdelsalam will be a key witness in the Bataclan Trial. Not only is he the only terrorist survivor, but it appears that he played a key role in assembling the attack team. It is questionable, however, that he will cooperate. Early indications are not good. Asked his occupation by the court, Abdelsalam replied: “Soldier of the State of Islam.”

Abdelsalam is one of 20 defendants. Five are absent. Of these, four are believed to have been killed by subsequent US drone strikes. One is being held in a Turkish prison. 14 defendants are charged with aiding and abetting the attack in some way—either by providing sanctuary, weapons, transport or finance.

The start of proceedings in the Palais de Justice coincides nicely with the West’s defeat in Afghanistan. NATO invaded the central Asian country 20 years ago because it had become a breeding ground for terrorism against Europe and the US.

The fear of many Europeans is that a Taliban government will be unable to prevent a return to the bad old days despite its pledges to the contrary. Or, at the very least, their victory will encourage Jihadist groups elsewhere in the world. That is certainly the opinion of Ken McCallum, head of Britain’s MI5, who this week told the BBC’s Today Show that British Intelligence had foiled 31 “late stage” terrorist attacks in the past four years but that he warned that “the fall of Afghanistan may have emboldened terrorists in Britain.”

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  • It is the 20th anniversary of 9/11. Two decades since 2,996 lives were lost in suicide attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and in a field in Somerset County, Pennsylvania. In New York the occasion will be marked by families of the dead reading statements about their loved ones. The event will be closed to the public. Elsewhere in the world, the anniversary will be marked with foreboding. The attack was carried out by Al Qaeda and was planned and coordinated from its base in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. Within weeks a US-led NATO force toppled the Taliban government. There has not been a Jihadist attack on US soil since. President Biden has now withdrawn US forces from Afghanistan and the Taliban is back in power. Biden claims that the US-led occupation and long war against the Taliban was a success. It was, and now it isn’t. The current Taliban government is filled with faces who were thrown out in 2001. Some of them are on America’s Ten Most Wanted List. The leadership started off on the right foot promising to protect women’s rights (according to Islamic law), and most importantly pledged to prevent their country from again being used as a base for international terrorism. But do they have the power to prevent it? The new cabinet has abolished the post of Minister for Women and it is widely believed that some of its members have linked to ISIS-K which was responsible for the bombing that killed 200 and wounded many more during the evacuation at Kabul Airport. Instead of denying the undeniable, President Biden should accept that American revenge on Afghanistan has been a failure and has most likely led to the re-establishment of terrorist groups in the Central Asian country and emboldened Jihadist organizations around the world. He pulled out because the twenty-year war was unpopular with the American electorate. But another 9/11 will be more so.
  • President Joe Biden this week signed a decree requiring all federal employees and employees of major US companies to be covid vaccinated—that is 100,000 people in total. Biden justified the move by saying that the crisis has moved from an every person pandemic to a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” He has a point. Eighty million Americans remain unvaccinated. 476,000 have died so far. A large number of the roughly 1,500 new hospitalizations a day in America are victims of covid vaccine conspiracy theories. But not all. New Variants are emerging. The latest is the MU variant which appears to have originated in Colombia. Like its predecessors, MU is highly contagious. There is a fear that it may also be less susceptible to existing vaccines. A few months ago, Israel was hailed as the golden-boy of the anti-coronavirus brigade. Within a matter of weeks it had vaccinated almost its entire population. “We have beaten coronavirus,” the Israeli government crowed. Now it is in the middle of its fourth wave and preparing a fourth round of vaccinations. It is true that those who have had at least two vaccinations are less likely to contract the virus and, if they do, the symptoms are less severe. But Delta and MU are so highly contagious that it is working its way scythe-like through the unvaccinated or partly vaccinated population. In the meantime, libertarian-minded US Republicans are planning a legal challenge to the president’s decree on the grounds that personal liberties trump social responsibilities.
  • The possible fate of Canada’s Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is an object lesson in the dangers of calling an early election. After the 2019 federal elections Trudeau emerged with a minority government. Like most political leaders, he wants a majority. The early summer opinion polls indicated that the votes were swinging his way and so he called a snap election two years before it was necessary. Canadians now troop to the polls on 20 September. They appear displeased that their prime minister has created a political distraction when they want him to get on with the job of dealing with the pandemic and the economic problems resulting from it. As of this writing, Trudeau is tied with Canada’s Conservative Party. Assuming that the polls are correct and remain firm, his best hope is a coalition with either the French-speaking Parti Quebecois led by Yves-Francois Blanchet, the left-wing New Democratic Party (NDP) led by Jameet Singh or the tiny Greens (currently three seats) led by Annamie Paul. But even that is going to be tough as Conservative Leader Erin O’Toole is having some success portraying his party as a broad church. He has, for instance, cast himself in the role of Canada’s number one protector of LGBT rights.
  • There is also an election coming up in Russia. It does not directly involving President Vladimir Putin. They are parliamentary elections for the 450-seat Duma as well as elections to 39 regional parliaments. The three-day election which starts on 17 September has been billed by the English-language Russian newspaper “The Moscow Times” as the “least competitive in 20 years”. For “least competitive” you may substitute “least fair.” So far 21 candidates not belonging to the ruling United Russia Party have either been banned from standing for election. Alexei Navalny’s Russia of the Future Party has been disbanded by the authorities and its leader and most members of its ruling council are now languishing in Russian prisons on various trumped up charges. But there is still a rump operating in the shadows and six of its members were planning to stand for office and have now been banned by the authorities from doing so. The Yabloko Party, which advocates the unthinkable policies of improving relations with the US and membership of the EU, has had seven members banned. Two independents are out and even the Communist Party has been told that one of its members—Pavel Grudinin—cannot stand because he allegedly owns foreign property. Putin is not officially a member of the United Russia Party which won 54.2 percent of the vote in the last election. The President is meant to be independent and above party politics, but he is a former party president and the party slavishly accepts every decree he passes. Therefore, election observers will be closely monitoring 1- The performance of the United Russia Party 2- The number of election abstentions and 3- Any Reports of ballot-rigging or intimidation.
  • Boris Johnson’s global Britain is becoming a farce. For it to succeed requires the British government to successfully work with other countries and follow international law—most of which it wrote. The antics of Home Secretary Pritti Patel (officially now the most heartless person in the British cabinet) is another example of British failure on both counts. A key issue in the 2016 Brexit debate was immigration and Ms. Patel is determined to put a stop to the growing number of refugees flowing across the English Channel from France to England. She tried to secure French support by paying for the French police to increase their surveillance of the French coast. That didn’t work. No amount of money would enable the police to be everywhere every time. So now she has announced that the British Coast Guard and possibly also the Royal Navy, will intercept any refugee-laden boats and tow them back to French waters. She has also said she will probably stop funds to the French police. In one fell swoop, the British Home Secretary has infuriated the French and broken international maritime law which says those in danger at sea must be rescued. Global Britain is beginning to look increasingly like the Emperor’s new clothes.

[author title=”Tom Arms ” image=”https://sindhcourier.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/Tom-Arms-Journalist-Sindh-Courier.jpg”]Tom Arms is foreign editor of Liberal Democrat Voice. and the author of “The Encyclopedia of the Cold War”.His book “America: Made in Britain” is published on 15 October.[/author]