Fourteen members of a banned Islamic group called Forsane Alizza (“Knights of Pride”) are on trial in Paris for planning a wave of attacks against Jewish-owned stores, similar to the hostage standoff and killings that took place at the Hyper Cacher grocery store after the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January.
As described by the UK Telegraph, the group was supposedly founded in 2010 to “unite young Muslims” and “stop the spread of Islamophobia.” Among its early activities was producing a video glorifying Osama bin Laden, while group leader Mohamed Achamlane was caught in a web forum issuing fulsome praise for mass murderer Mohamed Merah, whose courageous contribution to jihad involved shooting up a Jewish school. Achamlane described the school massacre as a “blessing from Allah” and vowed to inflict more “scars on France.”
This does not seem like the optimum strategy for battling the spread of “Islamophobia.”
In later online conversations, police say Achamlane claimed involvement in a 2011 firebomb attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices and “discussed assassinating a French far-Right leader and kidnapping a judge.” A March 2012 raid on Achamlane’s home netted three rifles, three revolvers, “easy recipes” for homemade explosives, a much harder recipe for building a nuclear bomb, and a computer containing a file called “target.txt” listing five Hyper Cacher grocery stores, plus five more Jewish-owned businesses.
Several other members of Forsane Alizza are also facing weapons charges, and a man the Telegraph describes as a “reported sympathizer” of the group, Omar Diaby, “has since notoriously become a top recruitment sergeant of French Islamists for al-Nusra Front, the Syrian jihadist group.”
The Times of Israel adds that prosecutors say group members were undergoing physical training “in order to take part in a jihad” and used their website to call for “an Islamic caliphate in France, the application of Sharia (law) and incited Muslims to unite to prepare for civil war.”
Deutsche Welle quotes Jean-Charles Brisard, chairman of the Center for Analysis of Terrorism in Paris, describing Forsane Alizza as “radical Salafists opposing institutions, opposing any evolution in society, and clearly calling for the application of Sharia law in France.”
According to the Deutsche Welle report, the group had “anywhere between a dozen and 100 local, mostly young, members, as well as several thousand online followers” and relied on a combination of social media activity and propaganda stunts to spread its ideas. One example of the latter involved some Forsane Alizza members rushing into a McDonald’s restaurant in southern France and bellowing anti-Semitic slogans, a stunt for which “self-proclaimed emir Achamlane was subsequently given a four-month suspended sentence for incitement to racial discrimination.”
Despite all of this, and the French government’s decision to outlaw Forsane Alizza during a crackdown on radicals after Mohamed Merah’s 2012 shooting spree, Achamlane and his lawyers maintain they were not seriously contemplating a terrorist attack. “It has not been demonstrated that any acts preparing a terrorist action had been taken. This is just assumed,” said defense lawyer Beranger Tourne. Another of the group’s lawyers portrayed their prosecution as an assault on free speech.
The court also noted that Achamlane wrote a letter to investigators from jail denouncing the Charlie Hebdo massacre and subsequent killings at the Hyper Cacher grocery.
The Times of Israel adds that at least one member of Forsane Alizza was a minor, who was absent from Monday’s hearings because he had to be tried in juvenile court. The adults could be facing up to 10 years in prison, if convicted.