An ISIS killer thought to be orchestrating attacks in France has scolded male jihadists for not carrying out enough atrocities after an all-women terror cell was crushed by police.
Officials believe French extremist Rachid Kassim, who has appeared in ISIS beheading videos, is a ‘key instigator’ directing hundreds of recruits using encrypted messaging apps.
The 29-year-old fanatic, from a town north of Lyon, has emerged as the link among at least four plots to attack France since June – including an all-female gang arrested over a car packed with explosives left close to Notre Dame cathedral.
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ISIS killer Rachid Kassim, pictured, thought to be orchestrating attacks in France has scolded male jihadists for not carrying out enough atrocities after an all-women terror cell was crushed by police
Officials believe French extremist Rachid Kassim (holding the knife), who has appeared in ISIS beheading videos, is a ‘key instigator’ directing hundreds of recruits using encrypted messaging apps
After the plot was foiled, he is said to have taken to Telegram to ask his male followers ‘What’s your excuse?’ and ‘where are the brothers?’ adding that too few men were launching attacks.
According to Le Monde, which did not say how it acquired the message, Kassim wrote: ‘You have to understand, if women are taking action it’s certainly because too few men will take action,’ he wrote, seemingly referring to the youngest in the female cell, a 19-year-old who was identified through her father’s abandoned car.
‘She had her whole life before her but she left, she left to do something and they stopped her before she could succeed. But I’m talking about her intention. You, what’s your excuse?’
The precise role of the extremist, Rachid Kassim, in four plots this year is under investigation, but the officials say he has become a key instigator who directs recruits in encrypted forums on how and where to carry out the ISIS call for European Muslims to strike at home.
Most recently, he was believed to be in contact with a 19-year-old in an unprecedented cell of French women who failed in their attempts to detonate a car bomb and kill police.
The 29-year-old fanatic, from a town north of Lyon, has emerged as the link among at least four plots to attack France since June – including an all-female gang arrested over a car packed with explosives (pictured) left close to Notre Dame cathedral
Video captured the moment a woman was detained after the discovery of a car packed with gas canisters left in central Paris
From the Loire River town of Roanne, Kassim is believed to be in either Syria or Iraq yet figures in multiple French anti-terror investigations.
Kassim’s virtual fingerprints were found as early as the June 14 knifing of two police officials at their home in the Paris suburb of Magnanville, in which the killer left behind not only a video that he had streamed on Facebook Live but a hit list of politicians, journalists and public personalities.
That list is believed to have been drawn up by Kassim ahead of time, one of the officials said.
Attacker Larossi Abballa was shot dead when police stormed the home to rescue the dead couple’s three-year-old child.
His video, although removed swiftly from Facebook, reappeared in ISIS propaganda.
Kassim then became the public face of an ISIS claim of responsibility for the July 14 truck attack on Nice that left 86 people dead, appearing in a video in which he threatened France and beheaded a captive in Iraq.
Kassim told French President Francois Hollande in the video: ‘You have said that your attack will intensify on us. In turn, our operations against you will be more severe.’
Larossi Abballa knifed two police officials at their home in the Paris suburb of Magnanville, leaving behind not only a video that he had streamed on Facebook Live but a hit list of politicians, journalists and public personalities. That list is believed to have been drawn up by Kassim ahead of time
A policeman takes off a picture of French policeman Jean-Baptiste Salvaing and his partner Jessica Schneider who were killed in Magnanville by Frenchman Larossi Abballa
On July 26, two Frenchmen who came together on the encrypted app Telegram slit the throat of an elderly priest in the Normandy town of Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, holding nuns and a couple of parishioners hostage until police fatally shot the attackers.
In that case, too, Kassim appeared to have a role, namely in bringing the two – Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean – together.
Again, selfie videos filmed by the men were almost immediately transmitted to ISIS media organisations.
And this past weekend, a 15-year-old boy was arrested at his Paris home to thwart what authorities feared was a planned weekend attack – yet another person under investigation for possible links to Kassim, who was known even before he left to join ISIS for radicalising young people.
‘He tried to lure young people,’ Abdennour Bentoumi, the head of the mosque in Roanne, told France Television. ‘He told them, heaven isn’t praying. There’s another way.’
Kassim (pictured) is said to have taken to Telegram to ask his male followers ‘What’s your excuse?’ and ‘where are the brothers?’ adding that too few men were launching attacks
ISIS has claimed responsibility in its official media for both the attack on the church and against the police.
But the group has remained silent in the case of the car loaded with gas cylinders and the subsequent stabbing of two police officers, which the Paris prosecutor said came during a raid to prevent the women from carrying out another planned attack.
One of those women, identified as 23-year-old Sarah H, was engaged first to Abballa and then to Kermiche, according to the prosecutor, Francois Molins.
Her current betrothed, Mr Molins said, is the brother of a man arrested in the Magnanville case, yet another thread in the web linking the cases.
‘The act by these young women remote-controlled by individuals who can be found in Syria among the ranks of Daesh demonstrates that this organisation wants to make women into combatants,’ said Mr Molins, using another name for ISIS.
Kassim, an amateur rapper, is thought to have been radicalised either over the internet or during a visit to Algeria in 2011. Two of his songs were called ‘I’m a terrorist’ and ‘Rap attack’.
Also known as Ibn Qassim, his is said to have fallen out with his local Muslim community and fled from France along with his wife and three children for Egypt.
He has since regularly appeared in ISIS propaganda videos shot in Syria or Iraq and has been able to urge some 300 contacts to commit attacks on home soil, notably publishing a list of targets and scenarios for how to carry them out.
Earlier this summer, two Frenchmen slit the throat of priest Jacques Hemel (left) in Normandy. In that case Kassim appeared to have a role, namely in bringing the two – Adel Kermiche and Abdel Malik Petitjean (right) – together
Meanwhile, smartphone app Telegram, favoured by the ISIS group thanks to the encrypted messaging it offers, is reportedly proving to be a difficulty for French anti-terror investigators.
The free-to-download instant messenger, which allows people to exchange messages, photos and videos in groups of up to 5,000 people, has attracted some 100 million users since its launch in 2013.
And there are features that make it particularly attractive to jihadists, who can not only rest assured that their private messages are out of the reach of intelligence officials, but can disperse propaganda on YouTube-like public channels.
After ISIS gunmen and suicide bombers massacred 130 people in Paris in November, Telegram blocked dozens of public channels that were being used to spread extremist messages.
But Russian Internet guru Pavel Durov, who founded Telegram with his brother Nikolai, insisted that not even he has the power to intercept users’ private chats.
In France, which has suffered a string of further jihadist assaults since the Paris carnage, investigators are still dealing with the fallout from the communications of Kassim, suspected of using Telegram to direct people to carry out attacks.
Kassim then became the public face of an ISIS claim of responsibility for the July 14 truck attack on Nice that left 86 people dead, appearing in a video in which he threatened France and beheaded a captive in Iraq
Unable to get past Telegram’s impenetrable encryption, the best intelligence officials can hope for is to sneak into extremist chatrooms by posing as jihadists – but they’re bound to attract suspicion unless they talk the talk convincingly.
‘Infiltrating is possible, but you have to be a good actor and have a lot of cultural and religious awareness to get away with it,’ one investigator said.
So confident is Telegram in its encryption, it has offered up to $300,000 to anyone who manages to crack its system.
The app also has a feature that allows users to set messages to auto-destruct, making it impossible to recover them later for use in investigations.
Even in the realm of public jihadist propaganda on Telegram, it is ‘practically impossible to track the millions of messages that are exchanged every hour’, one investigator lamented.
THREE WOMEN WERE PART OF ‘FEMALE COMMANDO UNIT’
A Paris judge has handed preliminary terrorism charges to three women who authorities suspect are part of a female ‘commando’ unit planning imminent attacks in France on behalf of ISIS.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said overnight the three women were charged with criminal terrorist association linked to the discovery of an abandoned car full of gas cylinders near Notre Dame Cathedral and with another pending attack.
A 23-year-old man, engaged to one of them, was charged with not reporting a pending terrorist crime to authorities. The four were arrested last week.
The three women were remanded in custody, the prosecutor’s office said.
The Paris prosecutor’s office said overnight the three women were charged with criminal terrorist association linked to the discovery of an abandoned car full of gas cylinders near Notre Dame Cathedral and with another pending attack
The women were detained last week after the discovery of the vehicle near Notre Dame on September 4. Police believe they were planning other attacks including striking a train station in the Paris area or targeting police.
The suspects – named as 19-year-old Ines Madani, 23-year-old Sarah Hervouet and 39-year-old Amel Sakaou – were brought before anti-terrorism judges on Monday and charged with involvement in a terrorist conspiracy.
The two youngest were also charged with plotting to kill public officials, while Hervouet’s boyfriend was charged with failing to report a terrorist offence, a statement said.
The women are believed by police to have been spurred by repeated calls by the ISIS for attacks in France.
France is on heightened alert after two grisly attacks in July – one in the southern resort of Nice, where a truck driver crushed 86 people to death and another in Normandy, where two men slit the throat of an elderly priest.
The country has been repeatedly targeted by Islamic extremists in the last two years, with an assault on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in January 2015 followed by a rampage by gunmen in Paris in November.
French policemen take part in a police raid in Boussy-Saint-Antoine near Paris after a car packed with gas cylinders was found near Notre Dame cathedral
Prime Minister Manuel Valls on Sunday said the terror threat was at a ‘maximum’ and that the authorities were foiling attacks and smashing jihadist networks ‘every day’.
As many as 15,000 people were considered by French authorities as radicals who posed a potential threat, he added.
Sources close to the investigation said the women had discussed obtaining suicide belts or ramming cars filled with explosives into buildings.
One of them was found in possession of a letter professing her allegiance to ISIS, which ordered the carnage in Paris in November that left 130 people dead.
A 15-year-old boy arrested in eastern Paris at the weekend was also brought before investigating magistrates on Monday to be charged with conspiring to commit attacks.
The youth had written to contacts on Telegram – an encrypted messaging app widely used by jihadists to communicate – of his plans to carry out a knife attack, sources said.
The women were arrested after police were alerted to a Peugeot 607 car parked near the Notre Dame cathedral in the middle of one of Paris’s busiest tourist spots on September 4.
It was found to contain five gas cylinders, three bottles of diesel and a half-smoked cigarette inside.
A fourth woman, Ornella Gilligmann, who has been charged with terrorism over the find, told police she and Madani had tried to set the vehicle alight but fled when they saw a man they believed to be a police officer approach.
Investigators moved quickly to arrest her suspected accomplices, believing them to be on the cusp of staging an attack.
During their arrest in the southern Paris suburb of Essonne, Hervouet stabbed a policeman, injuring him in the shoulder.
Madani was shot in the leg after she also charged at an officer with a knife.
Both were known to police for their links to Islamist radicals.
A police search of one of the women’s homes found seven empty glass bottles and pieces of paper that ‘could look like paper fuses’ but no explosives.
French intelligence chief Patrick Calvar described the app in May as ‘the main network used by terrorists’.
‘We bump into encryption problems on a daily basis, as the means of communication multiply along with the amount of data that we have to gather,’ he said, adding that encryption is ‘a major question that only international conventions can decide on’.
The use of such apps, which soared after Edward Snowden’s revelations of mass US surveillance in 2013, has sparked debate over the balance between internet users’ right to privacy and the need for security agencies to protect the public.
Last month the interior ministers of France and Germany urged the European Commission to regulate encrypted messaging apps.
Telegram’s makers said after the Paris attacks that they were ‘disturbed’ it was being used by jihadists, but they are staunchly pro-privacy and have blasted internet giants Facebook and Google for giving data to third parties.
French investigators say they do not even know who within the Berlin-based company they should legally petition for information that could help piecing together a case, such as confirmation that a suspect is the holder of a particular Telegram account.
‘We do not know who in Telegram to send our requests to – there is no judicial entity or legal department like there is at Apple or Microsoft,’ one investigator complained.
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