Terror in Europe

France, Six Terror Attacks In Three Years That Should Have Raised Alarms

The car used by the Charlie Hebdo killers to escape is discovered by police on Jan. 7
The car used by the Charlie Hebdo killers to escape is discovered by police on Jan. 7
Patrick Randall

PARIS — The brazen terrorist attack against the French satirical weekly magazine Charlie Hebdo that left at least 12 dead Wednesday has shocked the nation and the world. But it doesn't come in a vacuum, following a series of attacks in the past few years that have no parallel in any other Western country.

There are cultural and historical explanations for why France has long had to struggle against extremist violence, but the recent uptick is notable relative to other European countries facing similar situations.

There is no fixed pattern, and the attacks include both lone-wolf criminals and those with links to organized terror groups, and indeed a previous attack on Charlie Hebdo for its depiction of Islam.

December 2014: On Dec. 20, Bertrand Nzohabonayo, 20, attempted to stab several police officers in a precinct in the small French town of Joué-lès-Tours. The young man, who was believed to have shouted "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") during the incident, was shot dead by police. He converted to Islam four years earlier but was not known by his relatives or French intelligence to have had any radical activities. Three days before the attack, however, the man allegedly posted several photos of the ISIS flag online.

Two days later, on Dec. 22, a man drove a car into 11 people in the city of Dijon while also reportedly shouting "Allahu Akbar." None of the victims died but two were seriously injured. Authorities raised doubts about the terrorist aspect of the attack, because it was later reported that the man was mentally ill. But several testimonies reported he shouted "in the name of the children of Palestine."

July 2014: On July 13, a synagogue in central Paris was attacked with Molotov cocktails following a pro-Palestine demonstration. Several altercations had already erupted during the day, but the demonstration was mainly peaceful. There were then clashes between several pro-Palestine protestors and members of the Jewish Defense League, which the French government regards as a terrorist organization. No victims were reported.

May 2014: On May 24, an armed man entered the Jewish Museum in Brussels, Belgium, killing four people. The suspected terrorist is Mehdi Nemmouche, a French-Algerian radical Islamist believed to have been sent from Syria by ISIS to strike Europe. According to a French police investigation, Nemmouche had also planned to commit a terrorist attack in Paris on July 14, during the national holiday parade. He was arrested in Marseille, in the south of France, on May 30, before being extradited to Belgium in July.

The funeral of the Jewish couple killed during the attack on the Brussels Jewish Museum in May 2014 — Gil Cohen Magen/Xinhua/ZUMA

November 2013: On Nov. 15, Abdelhakim Dekhar, 48, entered the Parisian offices of the French television station BFM-TV and threatened the editor before leaving the scene. He then went to the daily Libération, where he shot a young photographer in the hallway. The victim later died. After fleeing the scene once again, he fired shots on a bank in the financial district of the French capital after having briefly taken a driver hostage. He was later arrested in an underground car park in a neighboring town. Dekhar's motives have never been clear, but in letters written before the attacks, he talked about the Lybian and Syrian conflicts as well as the "fascist plot."

March 2012: On March 11 and 15, Mohamed Merah, 23, shot and killed three French soldiers, in the southern cities of Toulouse and Montauban. A few days later, on March 19, he killed three children and a teacher in a Jewish school in Toulouse. He was killed during an intervention by French special operations forces on March 22, following a 32-hour siege of his apartment. Merah was reported to be a French-Algerian who turned to radical Islam a few years earlier while in prison.

After the raid that killed Mohamed Merah in Toulouse, southern France, in March 2012 — Ki Price/ZUMA

November 2011: Wednesday's deadly attack on Charlie Hebdo is not the first time the magazine has been targeted for exercising its right to freedom of speech. On Nov. 2, 2011, the offices of the satirical newspaper in Paris were burned down after a Molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Charlie Hebdo had just published an edition titled "Charia Hebdo" ("Islamic Law Hebdo") in reaction to the rise of extreme Islamism in Libya and Tunisia.

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Ecological Angst In India, A Mining Dumpsite As Neighbor

Local villagers in western India have been forced to live with a mining waste site on the edge of town. What happens when you wake up one day and the giant mound of industrial waste has imploded?

The mining dumpsite is situated just outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat

Sukanya Shantha

BADI — Last week, when the men and women from the Bharwad community in this small village in western India stepped out for their daily work to herd livestock, they were greeted with a strange sight.

The 20-meter-high small hill that had formed at the open-cast mining dumpsite had suddenly sunk. Unsure of the reason behind the sudden caving-in, they immediately informed other villagers. In no time, word had traveled far, even drawing the attention of environment specialists and activists from outside town.

This mining dumpsite situated less than 500 meters outside of the Badi village in the coastal state of Gujarat has been a matter of serious concern ever since the Gujarat Power Corporation Limited began lignite mining work here in early 2017. The power plant is run by the Power Gujarat State Electricity Corporation Limited, which was previously known as the Bhavnagar Energy Company Ltd.

Vasudev Gohil, a 43-year-old resident of Badi village says that though the dumping site is technically situated outside the village, locals must pass the area on a daily basis.

"We are constantly on tenterhooks and looking for danger signs," he says. Indeed, their state of alert is how the sudden change in the shape of the dumpsite was noticed in the first place.

Can you trust environmental officials?

For someone visiting the place for the first time, the changes may not stand out. "But we have lived all our lives here, we know every little detail of this village. And when a 150-meter-long stretch cave-in by over 25-30 feet, the change can't be overlooked," Gohil adds.

This is not the first time that the dumpsite has worried local residents. Last November, a large part of the flattened part of the dumpsite had developed deep cracks and several flat areas had suddenly got elevated. While the officials had attributed this significant elevation to the high pressure of water in the upper strata of soil in the region, environment experts had pointed to seismic activities. The change is evident even today, nearly a year since it happened.

It could have sunk because of the rain.

After the recent incident, when the villagers raised an alarm and sent a written complaint to the regional Gujarat Pollution Control Board, an official visit to the site was arranged, along with the district administration and the mining department.

The regional pollution board officer Bhavnagar, A.G. Oza, insists the changes "aren't worrisome" and attributes it to the weather.

"The area received heavy rain this time. It is possible that the soil could have sunk in because of the rain," he tells The Wire. The Board, he says, along with the mining department, is now trying to assess if the caving-in had any impact on the ground surface.

"We visited the site as soon as a complaint was made. Samples have already been sent to the laboratory and we will have a clear idea only once the reports are made available," Oza adds.

Women from the Surkha village have to travel several kilometers to find potable water

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

A questionable claim

That the dumpsite had sunk in was noticeable for at least three days between October 1 and 3, but Rohit Prajapati of an environmental watchdog group Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti, noted that it was not the first time.

"This is the third time in four years that something so strange is happening. It is a disaster in the making and the authorities ought to examine the root cause of the problem," Prajapati says, adding that the department has repeatedly failed to properly address the issue.

He also contests the GPCB's claim that excess rain could lead to something so drastic. "Then why was similar impact not seen on other dumping sites in the region? One cannot arrive at conclusions for geological changes without a deeper study of them," he says. "It can have deadly implications."

Living in pollution

The villagers have also accused the GPCB of overlooking their complaint of water pollution which has rendered a large part of the land, most importantly, the gauchar or grazing land, useless.

"In the absence of a wall or a barrier, the pollutant has freely mixed with the water bodies here and has slowly started polluting both our soil and water," complains 23- year-old Nikul Kantharia.

He says ever since the mining project took off in the region, he, like most other villagers has been forced to take his livestock farther away to graze. "Nothing grows on the grazing land anymore and the grass closer to the dumpsite makes our cattle ill," Kantharia claims.

The mining work should have been stopped long ago

Prajapati and Bharat Jambucha, a well-known environmental activist and proponent of organic farming from the region, both point to blatant violations of environmental laws in the execution of mining work, with at least 12 violations cited by local officials. "But nothing happened after that. Mining work has continued without any hassles," Jambucha says. Among some glaring violations include the absence of a boundary wall around the dumping site and proper disposal of mining effluents.

The mining work has also continued without a most basic requirement – effluent treatment plant and sewage treatment plant at the mining site, Prajapati points out. "The mining work should have been stopped long ago. And the company should have been levied a heavy fine. But no such thing happened," he adds.

In some villages, the groundwater level has depleted over the past few years and villagers attribute it to the mining project. Women from Surkha village travel several kilometers outside for potable water. "This is new. Until five years ago, we had some water in the village and did not have to lug water every day," says Shilaben Kantharia.

The mine has affected the landscape around the villages

Sukanya Shantha/The Wire

Resisting lignite mining

The lignite mining project has a long history of resistance. Agricultural land, along with grazing land were acquired from the cluster of 12 adjoining villages in the coastal Ghogha taluka between 1994 and 1997. The locals estimate that villagers here lost anything between 40-100% of their land to the project. "We were paid a standard Rs 40,000 per bigha," Narendra, a local photographer, says.

The money, Narendra says, felt decent in 1994 but for those who had been dependent on this land, the years to come proved very challenging. "Several villagers have now taken a small patch of land in the neighboring villages on lease and are cultivating cotton and groundnut there," Narendra says.

They were dependent on others' land for work.

Bharat Jambucha says things get further complicated for the communities which were historically landless. "Most families belonging to the Dalit or other marginalized populations in the region never owned any land. They were dependent on others' land for work. Once villagers lost their land to the project, the landless were pushed out of the village," he adds. His organization, Prakrutik Kheti Juth, has been at the forefront, fighting for the rights of the villages affected in the lignite mining project.

In 2017, when the mining project finally took off, villagers from across 12 villages protested. The demonstration was disrupted after police used force and beat many protesters. More than 350 of them were booked for rioting.

The villagers, however, did not give up. Protests and hunger strikes have continued from time to time. A few villagers even sent a letter to the President of India threatening that they would commit suicide if the government did not return their land.

"We let them have our land for over 20 years," says Gohil.

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