Homegrown terror suspect reignites French fears
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The death of suspected terrorist Jérémie Louis-Sidney during a police raid in Strasbourg on Saturday has reignited terrorism fears in France, particularly because he appears to have been a home-grown militant, radicalised on French soil.
For Jérémie Louis-Sidney, France’s latest home-grown terror suspect, the end came swiftly and violently.
On Saturday morning, the 33-year-old Frenchman was sitting on a couch in a Strasbourg apartment when special anti-terror police officers stormed into the premises, according to police sources.
Louis-Sidney immediately fired at them with a .357 Magnum, emptying his Smith & Wesson pistol barrel before he was shot dead by police.
Three police officers were injured – including one who was shot in the chest and another in the head. They were both protected by their helmets and body armour.
Louis-Sidney, a recent convert to Islam, was in the home of "one of his two religious wives" – a 22-year-old woman – her 6-year-old daughter and a one-month-old infant, according to Paris prosecutor François Molins.
But not much is known about the man at the heart of Saturday’s nationwide anti-terror raids that resulted in Louis-Sidney’s death and the arrests of 11 other terror suspects.
French police say Louis-Sidney was a suspect in the September 19 bombing of a kosher grocery store in the gritty northern Parisian suburb of Sarcelles.
Saturday’s crackdown was directed at a suspected Salafist network believed to be behind the kosher grocery bombing, which was conducted by "a low-grade explosive device". One person was lightly injured in the attack, which caused considerable alarm among France’s Jewish community.
According to police sources, DNA identified on the grenade was traced to Louis-Sidney, who had been under surveillance since last spring.
Hollande pledges to fight extremism and anti-Semitism
The kosher grocery bombing and the subsequent anti-terror raids come at a time of heightened security across France following the publication of cartoons lampooning the Prophet Mohammed in a French satirical weekly. The publication came days after violent demonstrations against an anti-Islam film produced in the US broke out across the Muslim world.
Tensions are high in the Jewish community after a series of attacks and threats. These have ranged from death threats against the chief rabbi of Lyon to an attack – with a hammer and iron bars on three young Jewish men.
On Sunday, French President François Hollande met with Jewish leaders at the Elysee presidential palace and pledged to fight extremism and anti-Semitism “with the greatest firmness”.
"The state is totally mobilised to fight all terror threats," said Hollande, who vowed that "planned anti-terror laws will be put before parliament as soon as possible."
Hollande also noted that France, home to Europe's largest Muslim population, should not "stigmatise" its estimated four million adherents.
"The Muslims of France are not all Islamist fanatics," he said. "They are also victims."
Meanwhile, French Interior Minister Manuel Valls warned of a surge in home-grown Islamist radicals.
"There is a terrorist threat in France," said Valls in a radio interview Sunday. "It does not appear to come from foreigners, it appears to be French converts."
A petty criminal, radicalised in prison
The latest crackdown came nearly seven months after police gunned down Mohammed Merah, the 23-year-old suspect in the Toulouse shootings that left seven people dead, including three people at a Jewish school.
Paris prosecutor Molins described Sidney as "a delinquent who had converted to radical Islam".
Born in Melun, a town 60 kilometres south of Paris, Sidney had a history of petty crime, according to police sources.
In 2008, he was sentenced to two years in prison in a drug trafficking case and is believed to have become radicalised while in jail.
He had recently moved into the quiet Esplanade neighbourhood of Strasbourg, but he frequently visited the southern French city of Cannes, where his other “wife” lived.
It was not known if Louis-Sidney had travelled abroad to study Islam or on jihadist missions – as was the case with Merah, who had travelled to Pakistan and Afghanistan.
According to Strasbourg prosecutor Patrick Poirret, Sidney had shaved his beard when he arrived in the eastern French city – a sign, said Poirret, that he was ready to conduct a terror mission and end his life “as a martyr”.
Strasbourg police sources say Louis-Sidney had four wills, as well as a list of Jewish associations in the Paris region, all of which were recovered in Saturday’s raids.
French police said stop-and-search missions continued throughout Sunday. Louis-Sidney’s residence in Cannes – where he lived with one of his “wives” – was also raided Saturday. His other wife was taken in for questioning in Strasbourg.