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Friday , February 28 2020

Attacker’s mom missed warning signs

People take part in a demonstration in Ajaccio on Dec 27. (AFP)
People take part in a demonstration in Ajaccio on Dec 27. (AFP)

PARIS, Dec 28, (Agencies): The mother of the youngest of the Paris attackers, who blew himself up outside France’s national stadium, says she is “proud” that her son killed no one but himself. A woman identified as Fatima Hadfi late Sunday called Maghreb TV, a Belgian network with wide viewership among the country’s Moroccan community. On-air, she said she had no idea her son, Bilal, was radicalized until he called from Syria — instead of from Morocco where had told her he was going to vacation. She said Islamic extremists took advantage of her 20-year-old son after he grew disaffected by discrimination in Belgium.

After the Nov 13 attacks, which left 130 dead and hundreds injured, she said she visited the site near the stadium where her son detonated a suicide vest. Fatima Hadfi, who said she was the mother of Bilal Hadfi who blew himself up outside the Stade de France in Paris, phoned into Maghreb TV late Saturday, surprising the presenter.

In the recording of the call on the station’s website, she complained that the French authorities were still holding her son’s body and she could not understand why it had not been released for burial. The presenter asked her to explain how Bilal Hadfi, 20, had become involved with the jihadist attackers, several of whom came from Brussels, and why she had not seen any warning signs before he left for Syria in February. “You could not see anything (different) with him. He was like everybody else,” Fatima Hadfi said, speaking mostly in French. “He was a good boy, friendly and helpful but despite all that, they knew how to get around him.” Asked what role her son had played in the attacks, she said: “I have no idea at all.” Press reports Saturday said the Belgian authorities were questioning staff at Bilal Hadfi’s college in Brussels after warnings that he was becoming radicalised were missed.

The college reportedly informed the education authorities of their concerns in April after he went to Syria but the warning was not passed on to police and only came to light after the Nov 13 attacks. Fatima Hadfi told Maghreb TV that she was sure that people listening to her would wonder how she could not have noticed any changes in her son’s behaviour. “I have said that to myself. I should have listened more closely, I should have been closer to my children,” she said.

Maghreb TV Belgique serves mainly the local Moroccan community in Belgium. The Belgian authorities are still looking for suspects linked to the attacks on a Paris concert hall, restaurants, bars and the national stadium which left 130 people dead.

On Thursday, they announced they had charged a ninth person. AFP could not independently verify the identity of the woman who called into the station as Fatima Hadfi. In other news, hundreds of people marched in Corsica on Sunday after two days of violent anti-Arab riots, sidestepping a ban on demonstrations in a flashpoint neighbourhood by taking their protests elsewhere in the capital. Two people were detained over days of rioting on the French Mediterranean island, which saw demonstrators vandalise a Muslim prayer hall and set fire to books including copies of the Holy Quran.

Hundreds marched through poor areas of the capital Ajaccio on Saturday for a second straight day, shouting slogans such as “This is our home!” and “Arabs get out”. Corsica’s administrator Christophe Mirmand announced a ban on all protests and gatherings until at least Jan 4 in the poor Jardins de l’Empereur housing estate, the epicentre of the violence.

But hundreds took to the streets again on Sunday, dodging the ban by marching through other Ajaccio neighbourhoods chanting: “We fight against scum, not against Arabs!” “We aren’t thugs, we aren’t racists,” they cried as they marched to the police station and then through several low-income areas, before returning to the Jardins de l’Empereur estate where they were blocked by police. The unrest followed a Christmas Eve clash in which two firefighters and a police officer were injured at the estate, home to some 1,700 people, half of them of non-French origin. Regional official Francois Lalanne said a fire had been deliberately lit in the neighbourhood in a ruse aimed at “ambushing” the emergency services. A firefighter told French television that about 20 people armed with iron bars and baseball bats had tried to attack them, but were unable to smash through the windows of their truck.

Two men in their 20s were held in custody as part of a probe into the unrest. “Their involvement in the attack against the firefighters is still under investigation,” said prosecutor Eric Bouillard, adding the men had had brushes with authorities in the past.

The next day, 600 people gathered outside police headquarters in Ajaccio in a show of support for the police and firefighters. But some 300 broke away to head for the housing estate. Shouting xenophobic slogans, the group smashed a Muslim prayer room, partially burning books including copies of the Holy Quran, Lalanne said.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls wrote on Twitter that the break-in was “an unacceptable desecration”, while also condemning the “intolerable attack” on the firefighters. “This behaviour must stop. It hurts Corsica’s image,” Mirmand said. On Sunday morning there were few people out on the streets of the estate, where residents were still reeling after the clashes. “A fundamentally peaceful demonstration turned into racist violence,” said one resident. The unrest came as France remains jittery following the Nov 13 jihadist attacks in Paris that left 130 dead. During regional elections in mid-December, Corsica’s nationalist party won power for the first time. The population of France’s lush Mediterranean “Isle de Beaute” (Island of Beauty) increases by ten-fold during the peak tourist season.

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