Tag Archives: France

How an elite family’s decades-old secret sparked a reckoning about sexual abuse in France

A 30-year-old family secret has shaken the elite of France.

And it has nothing to do with the usual money scandals that rock the French establishment.

This is about alleged sexual abuse of a minor and the powerful people accused of staying silent.

The allegation, which was detailed in a bestselling book and is now under investigation by Paris prosecutors, involves an influential political scientist sexually abusing his teenage stepson.

A person holds the book La Familia Grande by Camille Kouchner in a Paris bookstore. The author is the stepdaughter of prominent French political expert Olivier Duhamel, whom she accuses of sexually abusing her twin brother during the late 1980s, when the siblings were teenagers. (Francois Mori/The Associated Press)

Investigators have yet to finish their work, but the case has already touched off a huge national debate on the extent of incest and sexual crimes in families, and the culture of silence that has helped to hide the problem.

The debate is so intense, French President Emmanuel Macron felt obliged to jump in on Jan. 23. He issued a video, telling victims, “We are there, we hear you, we believe you. You will never be alone.”  

He promised tougher laws on sexual crimes. The French parliament is already debating them.

Book reveals dark secret

This began, and stayed for years, a family story. But not just any family. Olivier Duhamel, 70, was a high-flyer in the tight French elite, not a politician in public view but an adviser, a political scientist and constitutional expert. And friend to French presidents.

When the scandal erupted, he was the president of the powerful Fondation Nationale des Sciences Politiques, which runs one of France’s most influential universities, the Paris Institute of Political Studies.

He was also the president of Le Siècle, a club of France’s political and intellectual elite. For good measure, he appeared weekly on radio and television.

That carefully constructed world collapsed in early January with the publication of a book. It’s called La Familia Grande and is written by his stepdaughter, Camille Kouchner, 45. In it, she details the alleged sexual abuse of her twin brother, whom she calls Victor in the book to protect his privacy, by her stepfather, Olivier Duhamel, when Victor was 13 and 14.

Duhamel immediately resigned all his posts and went to ground. He admitted nothing, simply saying he had been the target of personal attacks.

Olivier Duhamel, second from right, used to be an influential political scientist in France, seen here in 2007 with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, left. (Philippe Wojazer/Reuters)

Others also resigned, including a former justice minister, Elisabeth Guigou. She was a close friend of Duhamel and his family but, for the record, denied knowing of the allegations. Almost unbelievably, the post she resigned from was as chair of a government commission on incest.

According to Camille Kouchner, Duhamel’s family, and then others close to the family, had known for a dozen years of the alleged sexual abuse, but Victor had not wanted the facts to become public.

Her book unleashed a storm. The social media hashtag #MeTooInceste attracted thousands of testimonies from people saying they had been victims of incest. This reflected the shocking result of an opinion poll from Ipsos in November 2020 that surveyed a random sample of 1,033 French adults. In it, one in 10 people surveyed said they had been victims of incest. (In France, incest is defined more widely, and includes sexual abuse by a family member even if not related by blood.)

Change to the law

Camille Kouchner’s book has already had a print run of more than 300,000 copies. Two weeks after its publication, Victor was interviewed by French police. An investigation 10 years earlier had been dropped because the statute of limitations on incest and sexual aggression against minors was limited to 20 years. 

Two years ago, the statute of limitations was lengthened to 30 years from the age of majority of the minor. 

And, in response to the groundswell of outrage, Macron said, “We will go after the aggressors.”

French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a protective face mask, has offered his support to victims of sexual abuse within families. (Gonzalo Fuentes/Reuters)

On Jan. 26, Victor officially indicated that he considered his stepfather an aggressor. He made a criminal complaint against Olivier Duhamel.

Victor’s brother, Julien Kouchner, was quoted in the newspaper Le Parisien two days earlier saying, “In our circle, many people knew of the behaviour of my stepfather.” That circle was one of the highest in France. The father of Julien, Victor and Camille is Bernard Kouchner, a former French foreign minister and co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders). His second wife is Christine Ockrent, a famous television anchor and journalist. 

According to Camille and Julien, Kouchner and Ockrent were horrified when Victor told them of Duhamel’s behaviour in 2008, but Victor didn’t want it made public because his mother, Evelyne Pisier, was still with Duhamel and refused to accept he had raped her son. But Kouchner and Ockrent allegedly told friends.

Bernard Kouchner, former foreign minister of France, is seen during the 2018 Iran Uprising Summit in Manhattan, New York. (Amr Alfiky/Reuters)

Julien told Le Parisien: “Our world then divided into two, those who distanced themselves or even broke with [Duhamel], and others who stayed with him because of disbelief or opportunism…. But I’ve since discovered a third category, that of the accomplices who said things were only rumours which they knew to be exact facts.”

For 12 years, Olivier Duhamel carried on untouched. He lost none of his positions or clout.

Only after Evelyne Pisier died in 2017 did Camille, with Victor’s permission and support, decide to write about what happened.

Social reckoning 

The detonation has been huge, but there was another bomb a year earlier. It, too, took the form of a book, this one called Le Consentement (Consent). The author, Vanessa Springora, told of being sexually pursued and possessed at age 14 in the 1980s by a man more than 30 years older. 

The man was Gabriel Matzneff, 84, a successful author whose works detailed the pursuit and conquest of teenage girls and boys. He was rewarded with editing jobs at a big publishing house and major French literary prizes.

The book Le Consentement by Vanessa Springora is displayed in a bookstore outside Paris. The literary editor alleges that she had a destructive underage sexual relationship with French author Gabriel Matzneff, now in his eighties. (Christophe Ena/The Associated Press)

Springora’s book, which sold more than 200,000 copies, brought about an abrupt change. Matzneff was stripped of his positions and charged with justifying aggravated rape.

He expressed “regret” for his sexual activities, but, in an interview with the New York Times in February 2020, seemed unrepentant. “Even the silly things I might have done in those euphoric days of freedom, I wasn’t the only one. What hypocrisy.”

“Those days of freedom” refers to the years after what in France are called “the events of 1968.” France was brought to a halt in May 1968 by massive strikes. The call was for revolution, and for sexual freedom in particular. 

For many elites in France, the 1970s and ’80s became an era of open marriages and open sex. The mother of Victor, Evelyne Pisier, after she divorced Bernard Kouchner, embraced this ethos with several lovers, including, for four years in the early ’80s, Fidel Castro, Cuba’s president.

Then she met and married Olivier Duhamel. Even when Victor told her of her husband’s behaviour, she refused to believe it, her children say.

There is now a sad reckoning in France.

“How do you resist the call of the flesh, liberated from all restraints? How do you say no when imposed sexuality is labelled as emancipation?” Malka Marcovich says in her book L’Autre Héritage de 1968: La Face Cachée de la Révolution Sexuelle (The Other Heritage of 1968: The Hidden Face of the Sexual Revolution), published in 2018. “So people, male and female, who were dragged into a premature sexuality, now seen as violent, preferred to keep quiet.”

Emmanuel Pierrat, lawyer of French writer Gabriel Matzneff, leaves Paris’s courthouse on Feb. 12, 2020. The legal woes of the once-celebrated writer, Matzneff, are mounting. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

Matzneff pushed the “call of the flesh” even further, drawing up an open letter in 1977 calling for sex with minors under 15 to be decriminalized. Sixty-nine French intellectuals including Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre signed. So did two future cabinet ministers. One of them was Bernard Kouchner, Victor’s father. 

After Springora’s book was published, Kouchner recanted in an interview with the French magazine Le Point in January 2020. “That was idiocy. I didn’t even read it. A friend said I should sign it.”

And in an interview with Le Nouvel Obs, a French magazine, on Jan. 17, author Camille Kouchner offered a harsh verdict on that time, a verdict that, along with her stepfather, finds her mother guilty.

“Liberty, women, the couple, joyous infidelity, intelligent modernity — I was brought up with these ideas. My mother more or less abandoned us. This book let me release my pent-up anger against her, and to love her. I don’t try to excuse her.”

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Experts question whether COVID-19 curfews work. But France may have had some luck

As Quebec becomes the first province to implement a curfew to help curb the spread of COVID-19, there isn’t clear consensus whether similar efforts around the world have had much of an effect.

Quebec’s 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew went into effect this weekend and is scheduled to last until Feb. 8, meaning many of the province’s residents will be prohibited from going outside at night. Those caught outside without a valid reason could face a fine of between $ 1,000 and $ 6,000.

The province is following in the footsteps of other jurisdictions that have implemented similar curfews. Spain, Italy, Switzerland and France have all put in nation-wide curfews, and this weekend, 15 zones of France will have even earlier restrictions, beginning at 6 p.m. and lasting until 6 a.m.

Despite the widespread use of curfews, some health experts have challenged what they actually do to fight COVID-19

“I don’t think there is any strong evidence that that kind of approach works,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease physician and a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

However, researchers in France have found data suggesting it has worked to slow spread there — at least for some age groups.

Starting Saturday, Quebec is under curfew for the next four weeks, though there are some exceptions, including for dog walkers. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada)

Curfews associated with slowing spread

A team of French researchers looked into three waves of the French government’s health policy measures to combat COVID-19. 

Starting Oct. 17, 16 of France’s zones known as départements were put under curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. The following week, 38 were added, so more than half the country was under mandatory curfew from October 23 onwards.

Finally, starting on October 30, a nation-wide lockdown was implemented.

The researchers found that the curfew was able to reduce the acceleration of the pandemic, but the strongest effect was only for people who were 60 and older. 

For people younger than 60, it was the subsequent lockdown that did more to curb the spread.

“This suggests that if health policies aim at protecting the elderly population generally more at risk to suffer severe consequences from COVID-19, curfew measures may be most effective,” according to the study, which was released in November on SSRN, a pre-print server.

Patrick Pintus, an economics professor at Aix-Marseille University in Marseille, France, who was one of the researchers, acknowledged this was not a controlled experiment, that the results can only show correllation, not cause-and-effect.

“But what we found was that, especially the first week of the curfew, did seem to have an effect in terms of curbing the pandemic in the sense [of] reducing the acceleration,” he said.

“Our interpretation is that it’s probably due to the fact that because of the curfew, there were much less interactions between that age group in bars, in the restaurants.”

People enjoy a glass of mulled wine in the street before curfew on Dec. 17 in Strasbourg, France. Now, the curfew is moving even earlier, to 6 p.m., in parts of the country. (AP)

Pintus said they couldn’t say why the curfew didn’t have the same impact on virus spread among the younger age groups.

However, the older demographic is key — not just because they are more vulnerable but because, pre-curfew, the virus was circulating at twice the rate in those over 60 as under, said Pintus.

He did say that from his own experience, he believes people are following the curfew. 

“And I think the reason is that our own people prefer the curfew to the lockdown. Of course, they complain about it. And so it’s a huge constraint. But, you know, compared to lockdown, it’s much better.”

Impact uncertain

Meanwhile, in other jurisdictions, including U.S. states with curfews, there have been mixed results from the public health measure — and the specifics of timing may be key.

On Nov. 19, Ohio implemented a curfew from 10 p.m to 5 a.m., requiring people to stay inside a place of residence between those hours. That order has since been extended three times, with the most recent curfew set to last until at least Jan. 23.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine has extended his state’s curfew three times, and credits it with helping flatten case numbers there. ((J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune/Associated Press)

In announcing the extension, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine said they had seen a “somewhat flattening of cases” and that the rate of increase was slowing down.

He attributed the change to both mandatory mask-wearing in retail locations and the curfew — but not everyone is convinced.

“I have not seen any data suggesting they [curfews] have been effective in curbing viral spread in Ohio,” Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University said in an email.

In California, some areas are under a  “limited stay-home order” which includes a restriction of some activities after 10 p.m. 

“I can tell you just looking at what’s going on in California, that this particular curfew hasn’t made much of an impact,” said Dr. Lee Riley, professor and chair of the division of infectious disease and vaccinology at the School of Public Health, University of California, Berkeley.

“I’m not really sure curfews do much.”

Karin Michels, professor and chair of the UCLA department of epidemiology, said she believes the 10 p.m. starting time still invites too much social contact, and that an 8 p.m. curfew, like in Quebec, could make a difference.

“If I have to be home at 8:00 I have to start early. If I want to go to somebody else’s house, and maybe I don’t have much time because I work until 5:00 or 6:00 or something. 

“I think [8 p.m.] is more effective. And really, I think given the situation of the pandemic right now, I think we just have to bite the bullet and be more more restrictive.

WATCH | Why Quebec has decided to implement a curfew:

Quebec has imposed a nightly curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. as part of a four-week provincial lockdown aimed at reducing the spread of COVID-19 after record cases have put a strain on the health-care system. 2:00

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Demonstrators across France rally in tribute to beheaded teacher

France’s prime minister joined demonstrators on Sunday who rallied together across the country in tribute to a history teacher who was beheaded near Paris after discussing caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class.

Samuel Paty was beheaded on Friday in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine by an 18-year-old Moscow-born Chechen refugee who was shot dead by police.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex stood with citizens, associations and unions demonstrating Sunday on the Place de la Republique in Paris in support of freedom of speech and in memory of the 47-year-old slain teacher.

Some held placards reading “I am Samuel” that echoed the “I am Charlie” rallying cry after the 2015 attack on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, which published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. A moment’s silence was observed across the square, broken by applause and a rousing rendition of La Marseillaise, the French national anthem.

Demonstrators also gathered in major cities including Lyon, Toulouse, Strasbourg, Nantes, Marseille, Lille and Bordeaux.

French authorities, meanwhile, say they have detained an 11th person following the killing.

Anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-Francois Ricard said an investigation for murder with a suspected terrorist motive was opened. At least four of those detained are family members of the attacker, who had been granted 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March. He was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets.

His half-sister joined the Islamic State group in Syria in 2014, Ricard said. He didn’t give her name, and it wasn’t clear where she is now.

The prosecutor said a text claiming responsibility and a photograph of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone. He also confirmed that a Twitter account under the name Abdoulakh A belonged to the suspect. It posted a photo of the decapitated head minutes after the attack along with the message: “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

WATCH | French president visits scene where police fatally shot man who killed teacher:

President Emmanuel Macron was among a group of onlookers and police who gathered on a street outside Paris where police shot and killed a man who minutes earlier had killed a middle school teacher. 0:51

The beheading has upset moderate French Muslims, and a group of imams in the Lyon region were to hold a special meeting Sunday to discuss what the group called “the appalling assassination of our compatriot by a terrorist who in the name of an uncertain faith committed the irreparable.”

The head of the world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations has also condemned the killing. In a statement Sunday by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Co-operation, the office of the general secretary, Yousef al-Othaimeen, reiterated the OIC’s “well-known position of rejecting all forms of extremism, radicalization and terrorism for any reason or motive.”

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Chechen teen killed by police named as suspect in teacher’s beheading in France

A suspect shot dead by police after the beheading of a history teacher near Paris was an 18-year-old Chechen refugee unknown to intelligence services who posted a grisly claim of responsibility on social media minutes after the attack, officials said Saturday.

France’s anti-terrorism prosecutor’s office said authorities investigating the killing of Samuel Paty in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Friday arrested nine suspects, including the teen’s grandfather, parents and 17-year-old brother.

Paty, who was 47, had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class, leading to threats, police officials said. Islam prohibits images of the Prophet, asserting that they lead to idolatry. The officials could not be named because they were not authorized to discuss ongoing investigations.

Muslims believe that any depiction of the Prophet is blasphemous.

French anti-terrorism prosecutor Jean-François Ricard said an investigation for murder with a suspected terrorist motive had been opened.

Ricard told reporters that the Moscow-born suspect, who had been granted a 10-year residency in France as a refugee in March, was armed with a knife and an airsoft gun, which fires plastic pellets.

People gathered at the site of the attack on Saturday. The 18-year-old suspect was shot to death by police on Friday, about 600 metres from where the teacher died. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

The teenager had approached pupils in the street and asked them to point out his victim, he said.

The prosecutor said a text claiming responsibility and a photograph of the victim were found on the suspect’s phone. He also confirmed that a Twitter account under the name Abdoulakh A belonged to the suspect. It posted a photo of the decapitated head minutes after the attack, along with the message, “I have executed one of the dogs from hell who dared to put Muhammad down.”

Headmaster received threatening phone calls

The post was removed swiftly by Twitter, which said it had suspended the account because it violated the company’s policy.

Ricard said the suspect had been seen at the school asking students about the teacher, and the headmaster had received several threatening phone calls.

The suspect’s half-sister joined the Islamic State group in Syria in 2014, Ricard said. He didn’t give her name, and it is not clear where she is now.

The attacker, of Chechen origin, had been living in the town of Évreux, northwest of Paris, and was not previously known to the intelligence services, Ricard told a news conference.

Flowers, a candle and a message are seen in front of the Bois d’Aulne college after the attack in the Paris suburb of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine on Saturday. The placard reads ‘I am teacher.’ The teacher who was killed had discussed caricatures of Islam’s Prophet Muhammad with his class, authorities said. (Charles Platiau/Reuters)

Mourners marched near the school in solidarity on Saturday, holding signs that read “I am a teacher.”

“We’ll pick ourselves up together, thanks to our spirit of solidarity,” said Laurent Brosse, mayor of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine.

Parents of students laid flowers at the school gate. Some said their children were distraught.

“[My daughter] is in pieces, terrorized by the violence of such an act. How will I explain to her the unthinkable?” one father wrote on Twitter.

A police official said the suspect was shot dead about 600 metres from where Paty died. Police opened fire after he failed to respond to orders to put down his weapons and acted in a threatening manner. The official could not be named because of the ongoing investigations.

French President Emmanuel Macron went to the school on Friday night to denounce what he called an “Islamist terrorist attack.” He urged the nation to stand united against extremism.

WATCH | French president visits scene of knife attack:

President Emmanuel Macron was among a group of onlookers and police who gathered on a street outside Paris where police shot and killed a man who minutes earlier had killed a middle school teacher. 0:51

“One of our compatriots was murdered today because he taught … the freedom of expression, the freedom to believe or not believe,” Macron said.

The presidential Élysée Palace announced that there will be a national ceremony at a future date to honour Paty.

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, François-Philippe Champagne, also condemned the attack on Twitter Saturday.

In a video posted recently on Twitter, a man describing himself as the father of a student asserted that Paty had shown an image of a naked man and told students it was “the prophet of the Muslims.”

Before showing the images, the teacher asked Muslim children to raise their hands and leave the room because he planned to show something shocking, the man said. “What was the message he wanted to send these children? What is this hate?” the man asked. The AP has not been able to independently confirm these claims.

Chechen refugees immigrated to France after war

Chechnya is a predominantly Muslim Russian republic in the North Caucasus. Two wars in the 1990s triggered a wave of emigration, with many Chechens heading for western Europe. France has offered asylum to many Chechens since the Russian military waged war against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the 1990s and early 2000s.

France has seen occasional violence involving its Chechen community in recent months, believed linked to local criminal activity and score-settling.

This is the second time in three weeks that terror has struck France linked to caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Last month, a young man from Pakistan was arrested after attacking two people with a meat cleaver outside the former offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The weekly was the target of a deadly newsroom attack in 2015 after it published cartoons about the Prophet Muhammad. It republished the same caricatures last month to underscore the right to freedom of information as a trial opened linked to that attack.

Friday’s terror attack came as Macron’s government works on a bill to address Islamic radicals, who authorities claim are creating a parallel society outside the values of the French Republic.

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As terrorism trial unfolds in Paris, France confronts its problem with Islamist extremism

“This is our separatism.”

Separatism — a word that has weight in many countries, notably Canada.

Here the speaker was French, in fact it was French President Emmanuel Macron.

The separatism he was talking about, in a major and long-delayed speech on Oct. 2, was Islamist separatism in France, an effort by Muslim hardliners in the country to capitalize on the alienation many young Muslims feel to create a regiment of fighters for jihad, or holy war against France, the West and Jews.  

The result has been a series of fatal attacks in the last decade in France, as well as the presence of French Muslims fighting in extreme groups in the Middle East.

Macron’s timing was no accident. 

Police officers stand by a knife, seen on the ground, in Paris on Sept. 25, 2020. French terrorism authorities investigated a knife attack that wounded at least two people near the former offices of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, authorities said. (Soufian Fezzani Via AP)

His speech took place during the first major terrorism trial in Paris after the attacks against the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish grocery store in January 2015, the co-ordinated killings in cafés and the Bataclan theatre in November 2015, and finally the truck assault in Nice on Bastille Day, July 14, in 2016.

The combined death toll was more than 230.

Most of the attackers were French-born, but all saw themselves as Islamist jihad fighters. 

So important is the trial, expected to last for several more weeks, that judicial authorities have allowed video cameras to record it.

So important did Macron consider the speech that he made it in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, which consumes the attention of the country.

A glass box is seen in a courtroom where the trial over the deadly attacks on satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and a kosher supermarket in 2015 is taking place in Paris. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

The French president’s diagnosis was brutal. 

“We ourselves have constructed our own separatism,” he said, by creating ghettos in the suburbs of major cities, particularly Paris. 

In these ghettos live most of France’s Muslims. Their number is estimated at approximately 5,750,000 or around 8.5 per cent of the French population.

That number from Pew Research in 2017 is approximate because French law stipulates that the census cannot ask about the religion of any resident of the country.  

‘A concentration of misery and difficulties’

For many Muslims in France, the future looks like a locked door. 

Or, as Macron put it, “we built a concentration of misery and difficulties, we concentrated populations according to origin and social milieu. We created neighbourhoods where the promise of the republic was never kept and where these most radical forms [of Islamism] became sources of hope.”

It also created fertile ground for imams trained in the Middle East and North Africa to radicalize young men. 

Issa, who requested confidentiality because of a fear of reprisals, is a young man I talked to from a poor Paris suburb, populated largely by families of North African and African origin. 

“Liberty, equality, fraternity — those words have no value here,” he said. “They only have value in the centre of Paris. Liberty — you go out and the police stop you five or six times a day. Equality — when you try to find work, you don’t have the same chance as someone in a rich district of Paris. Fraternity — everyone fears the other, the foreigner — the Black or the North African.”

A man wearing a protective face mask as a precaution against the coronavirus looks at a painting by French street artist Christian Guemy, a.k.a. C215, in tribute to the members of the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo attacked in January 2015. (Michel Euler/The Associated Press)

Other factors also contribute to a sense of alienation. 

In the Seine Saint-Denis suburb just north of the central district of Paris, which has a population largely of North African origin, the unemployment rate in late 2019 was 27 per cent. The national rate was less than nine per cent.

“Getting a job, no, just getting in the door, is much harder if your name is Mohammed,” one young man with a university degree once told me. 

Several studies in the last three years, notably by the sociologist Marie-Anne Valfort, back him up, concluding it’s at least 50 per cent harder for young Muslims to get job interviews than for non-Muslims.

‘All the time, every day’

Muslims are often the target of open racism from police. The most recent charge came from a police whistleblower, Brig. Amar Benmohammed. In July 2020, he detailed hundreds of incidents of racist language over two years in the police cells at Paris’s main court house.

“Racist language, it’s all the time, every day,” a police officer talking about fellow officers told the French national radio, France Info, this summer. 

“They call them bastards, rats, members of dirty races,” said another police officer, of North African origin working in the Paris region. The racist comments, the officers believe, reflect a poisonous mindset widespread in the police.

“French Muslims are fed up with the hateful invective and racist comments emanating from individuals and groups around the country,” said Mohammed Moussaoui, president of the Union of French Mosques. 

That is the unsettling background to the trial in Paris. 

Thousands of people gather at Republique Square in Paris on Jan. 11, 2015, eight days after the attack against Charlie Hebdo. (Peter Dejong/The Associated Press)

Ten of the 11 defendants accused of helping the three killers prepare the attacks had been in prison — for drug dealing, assault, even kidnapping and murder. It was in prison that several met the killers — the Kouachi brothers and Amedy Coulibaly — or their friends.

The three killers had been mentored by hardline Islamists at a mosque in northern Paris. Two had been arrested and imprisoned for terrorist offences, including trying to join the jihad in Iraq. There, among fellow Muslims, they preached the virtues of religious war, according to police.

In French prisons, Muslims form an outsize minority. Using the imperfect measure of requests for Ramadan meals, the French Ministry of Justice in 2017 calculated Muslims represent 26 per cent of the country’s prison population. 

Once back in the ghetto suburbs, the perpetrators of the Charlie Hebdo killings were able to outwit the French security services with ease. 

Obtained arms without police knowing

One police investigator, chief inspector Nicolas Guidoux, said at the trial that one of the attack leaders, Chérif Kouachi, “had simply played with the security and intelligence services.”

The proof was that the attackers were able to obtain arms, detonators, bullet-proof vests, a large car and several safe houses — all without the police knowing.

One of the accused, Willy Prevost, isn’t Muslim but had run up a huge drug debt with one of the killers. He was told to obtain Tasers and bullet-proof vests.

“You don’t go to the police in the suburbs. If you do, thugs come after your family,” he said. 

Three of the key accused aren’t even in court. They escaped to Syria around the time of the attacks. Two are believed dead, but the wife of one of the killers has reportedly been seen alive there. The French anti-terrorist police have taken the sighting seriously enough to open a criminal inquiry.

In the face of this, Macron’s suggested remedy seems thin.  

He said France will stop allowing foreign imams to come to indoctrinate French Muslims and a new law will outlaw home schooling. All children will have to go to state schools and learn about the ideals and principles of the French republic. (At the moment, authorities believe a worrying minority of Muslim children go to secret Islamist schools.)

It almost certainly won’t be enough. The French interior minister said as the trial opened that the police had, on average, broken up one terrorist plot every month for the past three years.

One they didn’t break up took place outside the former offices of Charlie Hebdo two weeks after the trial opened. A man wielding a large knife wounded two people seriously.

France’s problems with Islamist extremism are far from over.

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7 more bodies found in Italy and France after violent storms

Seven bodies were found in a region straddling the French-Italian border near Nice on Sunday after torrential rains swept houses and roads away, officials in both countries said.

Five of the bodies were discovered in northwestern Italy, including four washed up on the shore between the towns of Ventimiglia and Santo Stefano al Mare, near the French frontier. Some of the corpses might have been swept down the coast from France.

Two more were found in France, including a shepherd found by an Italian search and rescue team. The other body was found in a vehicle that had been swept away by flash-flooding in the village of Saint-Martin-Vésubie, France.

It brings to nine the total number of people found dead after fierce rains and howling gales lashed the border area on Friday. French firefighters said another 21 people were missing, eight of them known to be as a direct result of the storm.

The bad weather caused millions of euros of damage, with several road bridges swept away in Italy, and streets in some towns littered with debris, mud and overturned cars.

Flooded area is seen from a fire brigade helicopter in Ornavasso. Officials in the Piedmont region, where Ornavasso is located, reported a record 63 centimetres of rain in just 24 hours in Sambughetto, near Switzerland — more than half its annual average rainfall. (Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via Reuters)

Officials in the Piedmont region reported a record 63 centimetres of rain in just 24 hours in Sambughetto, Italy, near Switzerland — more than half its annual average rainfall.

In Limone Piemonte, Italy, a three-storey house was swept off its foundations and into a river. In the nearby village of Tanaro, floodwaters destroyed the local cemetery, sweeping away dozens of coffins.

In France, almost 1,000 firefighters were drafted into the Alpes-Maritimes region to look for the missing and re-establish communications. More than two dozen primary and secondary schools in the area are closed until further notice, local authorities said.

Up to 50 centimetres of rain fell in less than 10 hours, a volume not seen since records began, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said on Saturday.

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2 killed, 24 missing in severe floods in Italy and France

Flooding from record rains in the mountainous region that spans France and Italy killed two people in Italy and left at least 24 people in the two countries missing Saturday.

A storm that moved overnight across southeastern France and then northern Italy caused major flooding on both sides of the border, destroying bridges, blocking roads and isolating communities.

In Italy, a firefighter was killed during a rescue operation in the mountainous northern region of Val d’Aosta. Another body was found in Vercelli province, near where a man had been swept away by flood waters late Friday.

A total of 16 people were reported missing in Italy, all but one travelers in cars on the Col de Tende high mountain pass between France and Italy, according to civil protection authorities.

They include two people from Germany driving with their 11-year-old and six-year-old grandchildren, and a pair of brothers returning from France.

A building collapses into the river Cervo in Limone Piemonte, Italy, on Saturday. (Vigili del Fuoco/Handout via Reuters)

The spokesperson for Italy’s firefighters said a search was ongoing for a missing shepherd who was pulled into flood waters on Col de Tende. His brother managed to grab onto a tree and was saved, while authorities were searching on the French side for the shepherd.

Firefighter spokesperson Luca Cari said he suspects the other people reported missing in Italy have lost phone contact, but at the moment they are not thought to be in imminent danger.

The situation at the tunnel on the high mountain pass is complicated by the fact that French emergency responders cannot access their side due to flood damage, Cari said. Italian firefighters were searching the French side for people who may have been blocked.

Unrelenting rainfall overnight hit levels not seen since 1958 in northern Italy’s Piedmont region, where as much as 630 millimetres of rain fell in a 24-hour period, according to the Italian civil protection agency.

Hundreds of rescue operations were underway. Eleven campers were saved in Vercelli province, where floodwaters hit 20-year highs. And Alpine rescue squads have evacuated by foot seven people who were in houses cut off by flooding at Terme di Valdieri; some had to be carried on stretchers due to the muddy conditions and accumulation of detritus.

People clean up mud caused by flooding in Ventimiglia, Italy, on Saturday. (Federico Scoppa/AFP via Getty Images)

On the other side of the border, in southeastern France, almost a year’s average rainfall fell in less than 12 hours in the mountainous area surrounding the city of Nice. Nice mayor Christian Estrosi said over 100 homes were destroyed or severely damaged in the area.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex, who flew over the area in an helicopter, confirmed that at least eight people were missing, including two firefighters whose vehicle was carried away by water when the road collapsed during a rescue operation.

“I cannot hide our grave concern on the definitive toll,” Castex said.

Floodwaters can be seen circling a home in Saint-Martin Vésubie. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

Many worried families had not heard from their relatives due to cellphone services being cut off in the area.

“As I speak, priority goes to searching for victims, providing supplies and accommodation for the people affected, and restoring communications,” the prime minister said.

Rescue efforts included 871 personnel working on the ground, as well as military helicopters and troops helping with emergency assistance, Castex said.

A car lies in mud after being moved by floods in Roquebilliere, southeastern France. (Nicolas Tucat/AFP via Getty Images)

French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday expressed gratitude toward rescuers on Twitter. “Together we will get through this,” he said.

France’s national weather agency, Meteo France, said that up to 500 millimeters of rain (19.7 inches) were recorded in some areas, the equivalent of almost one year of average rainfall.

Meteo France issued a danger alert on Friday and all schools in the region had been closed. Local authorities urged people to stay at home.

In central Switzerland, flooding along the Reuss River caused the closure of a stretch of the A2 highway – a major trans-Alpine route. Further east, 13 residents were evacuated from their homes in the town of Diesbach because of flooding.

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Iran sends downed Ukrainian passenger jet’s black box to France for analysis

Iran has sent the black box of the Ukrainian passenger jet that its armed forces mistakenly shot down in January to France for reading, an Iranian semi-official news agency said Saturday.

Iran accidentally shot down the Boeing 737-800 in January, killing all 176 people aboard, including 55 Canadians. Iran initially denied responsibility for the incident, but later admitted its role in downing the jetliner, after mistaking it for an incoming missile.

Iranian armed forces had been bracing for a counterattack after launching missiles at U.S. bases in Iraq in response to the killing of its top commander, Gen. Qassim Soleimani, in a U.S. strike earlier in January.

ILNA’s report quotes Mohsen Baharvand, an aide to Iran’s foreign minister, as saying the downed jet’s black box was transported to Paris on Friday, accompanied by Iranian civil aviation and judicial officials.

Baharvand also said the black box will be read in Paris on Monday.

He said France will begin reading the flight recorders on Monday and praised the French government for its “very good cooperation with the Iranian delegation.”

WATCH | Iran blames Flight 752 crash on miscommunication, poor alignment:

Iranian investigators are blaming a misaligned missile battery and miscommunication between soldiers and their commanders for the Revolutionary Guard shooting down Ukrainian jetliner in January, killing 176 people — including 55 Canadians. 2:02

France’s BEA air accident investigation agency is known as one of the world’s leading agencies for reading flight recorders.

Iran has been in intense negotiations with Ukraine, Canada and other nations that had citizens aboard the downed plane, and which have demanded a thorough investigation into the incident.

An official from Canada’s Transportation Safety Board told CBC News in a statement: “We are deploying a team this weekend to Paris and we will have more information on Monday once they are onsite.”

In an interim report last week Iran’s Civil Aviation Organization blamed a misalignment of a radar system and lack of communication between the air defense operator and his commanders for the downing.

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New tennis tournament in France aiming for younger audience

With discussions ongoing over whether the U.S. Open or the French Open can even take place later this year, a new digitally friendly tennis tournament starts Saturday in southern France with four Top 10-ranked players involved.

Co-founder Patrick Mouratoglou hopes the Ultimate Tennis Showdown (UTS) — whose first edition features ATP Finals winner Stefanos Tsitsipas and U.S. Open semifinalist Matteo Berrettini — can change the way tennis is viewed by allowing a younger audience to access the raw feelings of players.

“I would like the fans to benefit from better access to the players’ emotions, especially on the court where the code of conduct is a significant obstacle to that,” Mouratoglou said. “UTS aims to appeal to a younger, more engaged new generation of fans in order to grow its fanbase community.”

Players compete every weekend for five weeks in a round robin format, their matches streamed on a live platform, with multiple screens, cameras and speakers capturing every sight and sound, according to organizers.

And that’s the whole point: allowing viewers unprecedented access to all that goes on in a game. Ramping up the rawness, rather than filtering it out.

Mouratoglou, who is also the coach of 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams, founded the UTS with Australian player Alexei Popyrin, who is also playing.

Fans can ask questions during changeovers

They want to change how tennis is experienced through a faster-pace format featuring more interaction, where on-court coaching is encouraged rather than frowned upon.

“(Players) will interact in real time with their fans, share conversations between themselves and coaches and carry themselves more freely on court,” the UTS said. “Spectators play a role in what unfolds; they interact with the players and can ask questions on changeovers, see what’s happening behind the scenes in the lives of players, and hear every word exchanged between coaches and players.”

That could well turn Benoit Paire into a global online star.

The 30-year-old Frenchman, ranked No. 22, is known as much for his explosive temper and his on-court rants — often directed at himself — as for his erratic but sometimes ingenious stroke play.

The event is being held at Mouratoglou’s academy near Antibes on the sun-soaked French Riviera. Because of coronavirus restrictions no fans are allowed on site. A safety protocol with social distancing and a limited amount of staff has been established.

Canada’s Auger-Aliassime to take part in tourney

The 10th-ranked David Goffin is also playing and the final Top 10 member will be announced this week. The others entered are: No. 20-ranked Félix Auger-Aliassime; No. 50 Richard Gasquet; No. 58 Lucas Pouille; and No. 239 Dustin Brown.

Auger-Aliassime is the youngest at age 19 and is exactly half as old as 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, with whom he shares an Aug. 8 birthday.

Brown, who beat 19-time major winner Rafael Nadal in the second round at Wimbledon five years ago, is the oldest player at 35.

Several players live in Monaco, making for convenient access to the tournament considering it is only 30 miles (around 50 kilometres) along the coast.

The tournament is not part of the ATP tour circuit and the format and rules have yet to be officially announced, but the games themselves are likely to be shorter.

Prize money depends on a player’s ranking and performance – a winner receives 70% and the loser 30%. Players also get a portion of advertising and broadcast revenue, the UTS said on its website.

The 21-year-old Tsitsipas is a flamboyant and emotionally expressive player who appeals to a younger audience, but is also a throwback to a bygone era where players like John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg wore headbands.

The tall and long-haired Greek player, who reached the Australian Open semifinals last year and has five career titles, has been a member of Mouratoglou’s academy since 2015.

“In 2017, as the world No. 203, I received a wild card into the Sophia Antipolis Challenger, which was held at the academy,” Tsitsipas said. “Three years later, I am grateful for how far I have come.”

Berrettini shot up the rankings last year thanks to a strong run at the U.S. Open, where he led a first-set tiebreaker 4-0 against Nadal — the eventual champion — in the semis.

The 24-year-old Italian is impatient to get back on court after playing only two competitive matches this year, both at the Australian Open — where he lost in the second round to Tennys Sandgren.

“After a never-ending period of inactivity, I am really hungry to compete,” Berrettini said.

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Canadian soccer star Ashley Lawrence living through ‘unique time’ in France

At 24, Ashley Lawrence is the reigning Canada Soccer female player of the year — an influential fullback/midfielder who has already won 91 caps for her country.

But the Paris Saint-Germain player has other things on her mind these days.

“This is definitely a unique time we’re living in,” she said from Paris. “For myself during this period, I’m always someone who tries to practise gratitude and to really see what I do have. I think it’s definitely more of an eye-opener being at home inside during such a long period of time. It really makes you think.

“For myself, it’s recognizing that staying inside, it’s so important. It’s difficult for a lot of people, for some more than others, but it’s a sacrifice that is going to help us in the long term. I think that there is a silver lining in this for everyone and there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Staying inside saves lives and it’s true.”

Lawrence, a native of Brampton, Ont., elected to stay in France at the beginning of the pandemic.

“I thought that maybe it’d last a few weeks and then the season would pick back up,” she said. “And now it’s obviously a lot longer than that.”

Canadian teammates return home

Another major factor was she lives with her boyfriend. Had she been alone, she says she would likely have returned home. PSG striker Jordyn Huitema and Lyon defender Kadeisha Buchanan, fellow Canadian internationals, are back in Canada.

France has been hit hard by the virus. Life has changed.

“Right now, we’re at a point where it’s pretty restricted,” said Lawrence.

She can leave her home to go shopping for groceries and necessities but otherwise is limited to an hour a day outside and has to carry a document that shows when she left and why.

“So very strict, but for obvious reasons,” she said.

There are “enormous” lineups at stores, exacerbated by the need for social distancing and limits to the number of people inside. The good news is Lawrence lives in the Paris suburbs, so the situation is slightly better than downtown.

Lawrence, who gets the occasional run in, is eating healthy. Her boyfriend studied nutrition.

PSG has given her an indoor workout regimen, as has the Canadian national team. Canada has also organized webinar sessions so she can work out with teammates and the national team strength and conditioning coach.

“I think it’s great for motivation and to see that we’re all in the same position in different parts of the world,” she said. “[After] getting the news of the Olympics being postponed, collectively we’re still working towards a goal and that’s the [Tokyo] competition — but also our personal development every day. So that’s been really nice to get that support.”

Important games loomed

Another of the reasons she elected to stay in France was Paris Saint-Germain was facing a crucial time in its schedule. Second in the French league, PSG (13-1-2) was due to play league-leading Lyon on March 14, Bordeaux in the French Cup semifinal on March 21 and Arsenal in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinal on March 25.

“Definitely a critical time for us,” said Lawrence, who joined PSG in January 2017 after a successful collegiate career at West Virginia.

Lawrence vies for the ball with Chelsea’s Millie Bright during a match in March 2019. (Feanck Fife/AFP via Getty Images)

With Paris Saint-Germain just three points behind Lyon (14-0-2), the top-of-the-table clash was a big one.

Lawrence has seen action in a variety of roles with Canada from fullback to winger and central midfielder. With PSG, she has been playing on the left side — as fullback and wing.

She feels comfortable in both roles but says she enjoys playing left back, which allows her to attack down the flank or cut inside and use her right foot.

“I think I can really add a lot to the fullback position and kind of reinvent it in different ways,” she said.

‘A helping hand’

These days Lawrence takes pride in the soccer community doing what it can to help during the pandemic, citing the likes of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo who have stepped up to assist with generous contributions.

But you don’t have to be a superstar to make a difference.

“A helping hand. I think that’s really what it’s all about,” she said. “It’s seeing a person and seeing how you can help them in any sort of way, and make a difference. It is a chain effect.”

Lawrence has been doing her bit back home for several years via Yes She Canada, which she founded to help connect pro players with young girls and mentor them through sports “show them that they can believe in themselves, that their dreams are possible.”

“As I continue to learn, I want to transmit those experiences onto the next generation.”

Her time in France has honed her French language skills, with Lawrence saying it is now the language used at home with her boyfriend.

“I struggled with it [at school]. I would say that I was starting from scratch when I first came over to France,” she said.

Canada’s Beckie re-signs with Machester City

Canadian international Janine Beckie has signed a two-year contract extension with Manchester City.

The 25-year-old’s current deal was to expire at the end of June.

“My agent called me a few times throughout the year to share some inquiries he had received from abroad but it has always been my goal to win the UWCL [UEFA Women’s Champions League],” Beckie said in a statement.

“We have built a squad who can compete for every title available in the women’s club game and that is the kind of team I desire to continue with.”

Beckie has already done her bit to help fill the Man City trophy case. In February 2019, she converted the decisive spot kick in a penalty shootout as City beat Arsenal to claim the FA Women’s Continental League Cup at Sheffield’s Bramall Lane.

A striker converted to wingback in the absence of the injured Aoife Mannion, Beckie has five goals and 10 assists in 21 games this season.

Beckie, who made her senior debut in November 2014, has 31 goals and eight assists in 70 appearances for Canada.

She had three goals in the Canadian women’s bronze-medal campaign at the 2016 Rio Olympics, setting a Games record for fastest goal just 20 seconds into Canada’s opening contest against Australia.

Beckie joined Manchester City in August 2018 from Sky Blue FC.

“She represents everything that we are about — a player who has the desire to win and improve, whilst always putting the team’s needs above her own,” said Gavin Makel, City’s head of women’s football. “There’s no doubt that Janine will continue to get better and better as she has done over the last couple of years.”

City currently tops the suspended FA Women’s Super League with a 13-2-1 record but exited the Champions League in the round of 16 at the hands of Atletico Madrid.

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