Ex French president Hollande to testify in Paris terror attacks trial

Former French leader François Hollande will testify on Wednesday in the trial over the November 2015 Paris terror attacks, facing questions over how a jihadist commando was able to evade detection while preparing the atrocities that would shake France to its core.

Former French president Francois Hollande.
Former French president Francois Hollande. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Hollande, president from 2012 to 2017, was attending a France-Germany football friendly on the night of November 13, 2015 at the Stade de France stadium in Paris when the first bomber detonated his vest, prompting security agents to whisk him away as two more blasts went off.

Gunmen later opened fire on cafes and restaurants in a lively part of the capital and stormed the Bataclan concert hall, killing indiscriminately and taking hostages.

Hollande quickly went on TV to speak of the “horror” still unfolding, which by the end of the night left 130 people dead, and he later declared a state of emergency.

Details remain murky on how many of the assailants or associates entered and remained at large in Europe despite being on the radar of intelligence services.

That has prompted some of the victims’ families to wonder whether the bloodshed could have been prevented.

France had already been on high alert for jihadist attacks since the massacre of 12 people at the satirical Charlie Hebdo newspaper and of four others during a hostage-taking of a Jewish grocery store over three harrowing days in January 2015.

Life for Paris, a victims’ association that is one of several plaintiffs in the November 2015 attacks trial, called for Hollande to testify as a witness over his government’s efforts to counter the jihadist threat.

Several of the 10 attackers slipped into Europe from Islamic State strongholds in Syria, using fake passports and blending in with streams of migrants fleeing war and poverty.

All were killed or eventually gunned down by police except for Salah Abdeslam, a dual French-Moroccan national, who was captured in Brussels after discarding his suicide vest.

But several had been known to intelligence agents or under surveillance in France, Belgium and elsewhere, including an alleged ringleader of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud.

A prominent French-speaking jihadist in Syria with a past role in several foiled attacks in France, Abaaoud was killed in a huge police raid in the northern Paris suburb of Saint-Denis on November 18.

Associates of the attackers had also been on the radar of European security forces, fuelling questions about whether intelligence agencies missed or mishandled key information that could have helped prevent the attacks.

“Francois Hollande knew the risks he was taking in attacking the Islamic State in Syria,” Abdeslam has said during the marathon trial that began in September.

He was referring to Hollande’s decision to authorise French airstrikes against the group in Syria, as part of the US-led coalition to oust the jihadists from territory they had seized in a bid to create an Islamic “caliphate”.

But so far Abdeslam has refused to provide investigators with details about the operational planning.

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French police shoot dead knife-wielding man at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport

French Border police at the Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris shot - and killed - man who was wielding a knife in the public area of the airport on Wednesday.

French police shoot dead knife-wielding man at Paris Charles de Gaulle airport

Border police reportedly shot a man with aggressive behaviour who brandished a knife in the public area of the Charles de Gaulle airport outside of Paris, on Wednesday morning, police and airport sources told AFP.

“This morning officers neutralised a threatening individual in possession of a knife at the Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport,” the Paris police department said on its Twitter account.

A source close to the investigation told BFMTV that the man – who was likely homeless – went towards the officers, despite being asked several times to put the knife down. In response, police shot the man in the abdomen, and the individual later died.

The incident took place in the busy, public area of terminal 2F around 8:20 am, when “a homeless man started bothering security agents and border police were called in to remove him”.

Initially the man left while yelling curses but he soon returned and brought out a knife, when one of the officers fired his weapon.

An AFP photographer who witnessed the scene said “a large person of colour brandished something that looked like a knife at the police”.

“He was ordered to stop but kept advancing toward them, and an officer fired a single shot.”

The man was quickly put on a stretcher and evacuated, the photographer said. 

Security forces have been on high alert for terrorist attacks since a wave of jihadist killings that have killed more than 250 people since 2015, often by so-called “lone wolves” who often target police.