A grim warning, as Paris court hears testimony on the making of a terrorist

·3-min read

In the final week of hearings before the winter break, the special criminal court in Paris heard from the relatives of some of the dead terrorists involved in the November 2015 attacks. A senior police investigator, meanwhile, warned that similar attacks could happen again at any time.

The father of the man who made the suicide vests used in the Paris attacks had no answers.

Driss Laachraoui told the court that he had watched, powerless, as his son lost interest in school and embarked on the tragic road that would lead from a local mosque to the Syrian war zone. Najim Laachraoui blew himself up in the suicide attack at Brussels airport in 2016.

The case of the Clain family was even more mysterious.

They were converts from Catholicism, the entire group including mother, two brothers, two sisters and their children, embracing a rigorous vision of Islam and then becoming active missionaries for the Salafist project that demands a return to the lifestyle lived in the early days of the Muslim tradition.

The Clains moved from the Norman city of Alençon to Toulouse in the search for new converts and a place to live their austere version of the faith. When even their Muslim neighbours found them excessive, some family members moved to Egypt.

The nightmare of daily life

The emergence of the Islamic State caliphate made the Syria-Iraq war zone seem like the promised land.

It was in that troubled territory that Fabien and Jean-Michel Clain became influential in the propaganda effort of Islamic State.

The brothers, who are among the absent accused in this Paris trial, are believed to have been killed by international coalition air attacks.

At least seven other Clain members lost their lives fighting for the caliphate. Many of the surviving family remain in the limbo of international refugee camps in Syria. Others are imprisoned in Iraq.

Dope and IS propaganda

The niece who testified this week spoke of her disappointment with the realities of daily life under a Sharia regime. She found the conditions totalitarian, many of the leaders motivated by greed rather than religion.

Her mother, who was arrested and returned to France before she could reach the realm of IS, claims to have left the excesses of Salafism behind her.

Other witnesses this week described the atmosphere in Les Béguines, the café in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek run by the Abdeslam brothers, Salah and Brahim.

Brahim Abdeslam killed himself in an explosion in Paris on 13 November 2015. Salah Abdeslam is one of the accused in this trial.

Les Béguines offered coffee, narcotics and a safe haven for locals interested in Islamic State propaganda videos.

A terrible possibility

The evidence for the week, indeed for this year, was brought to a close by two police specialists.

One explained how to falsify a passport. A colour photocopier and slight dexterity are the only essentials, provided you can find an otherwise authentic passport.

The other police witness, Patrick Calvar, head of French interior intelligence at the time of the 2015 attacks, explained that the technical means are available to reduce the threat of terrorist attack to close to zero.

But he warned that the price for such security would be a loss of individual freedom for all of us.

Since we have not made that difficult political choice, the Paris attacks could happen again, Calvar warned, and they could happen tomorrow.

The trial will resume in January.

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