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PARIS, Feb 15, (Agencies): A French court on Wednesday jailed two men in the first trial stemming from the 2015 Islamic State attacks in Paris in which jihadists massacred 130 people. Mohamed Soumah, a convicted petty criminal, was handed a fiveyear jail term for helping two IS jihadists find a hideout after the Nov 13, 2015 attacks, the worst on French soil since World War II. And Youssef Ait Boulahcen, the cousin of the attacks’ ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was given a four-year sentence with one year suspended for “failing to report a terrorist crime”.
The court has been packed for the trial, which started days before a separate case in Belgium involving Salah Abdeslam, believed to be the only surviving attacker from the Paris atrocities. The focus of the trial had been 31-year-old Jawad Bendaoud, a drug dealer who became a media sensation in France after renting his flat to the two jihadists but insisting nothing about them had seemed suspicious. Bendaoud became a national laughing stock after giving an infamous TV interview in which he insisted “I didn’t know they were terrorists”, despite the country having been on lockdown on the hunt for fugitive jihadists at the time.
Bendaoud argued he had previously rented his grubby flat in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis to Eastern European gangsters without asking any questions, and that all he knew about the men who arrived after the attacks was that they wanted somewhere with water where they could pray. Meanwhile, a Moroccan man was arrested in Paris Wednesday on suspicion of helping a jihadist who staged an attack on a high-speed train in 2015, a source close to the inquiry told AFP. The source said the 36-year-old was suspected of providing “logistical help” to Ayoub El Khazzani who opened fire with an AK-47 on a Paris-bound train from Amsterdam carrying more than 500 passengers.
Two people were wounded before the gunman was overpowered by three Americans on holiday in Europe, two of them off-duty servicemen. Their quick action prevented what could have been a bloodbath. The suspect, who lives in Spain, was arrested at a bus station in Paris as part of a joint French French- Spanish investigation, with a statement from Madrid’s interior ministry saying he was detained “as he was heading to Belgium”.
Meanwhile, the rebuke came from the leader of an organisation set up 15 years ago in a bid to defuse concern about radical preachers and foster a more homegrown form of Islam that would fit better with France’s traditional separation of church and state affairs. “Everyone must stick to their role,” Ahmet Ogras, President of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM), told Reuters in an interview. “The Muslim faith is a religion and, as such, takes care of its own household affairs.
The last thing you want is the state to act as guardian,” said Ogras, a Frenchman of Turkish descent who has led the CFCM since mid-2017. Macron, elected last May after a runoff victory over far-right leader Marine Le Pen, said in a Feb. 11 newspaper interview he planned to revisit the way Islam was overseen. “What I’d like to get done in the first half of 2018 is set down markers on the entire way in which Islam is organised in France,” he told the Journal du Dimanche.
The priority would be to “bring back what secularism is all about”. Traditionally Catholic France is home to the largest Jewish and Muslim communities in Europe, with the latter estimated at five million out of a population of 67 million. The official rule is strict separation between religion and state, with the former considered a strictly private matter.
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