French press review 5 January 2017

Is it possible to fight armed Islamists without breaking the law? How did the man suspected of carrying out the Berlin Christmas market attack cross Europe unnoticed? And is it really a crime to help illegal migrants?


The main story in Le Monde looks at the legal and ethical problems posed by the struggle against armed Islamists, notably in the Syrian conflict.

The centrist paper bases its report on a confidential document which effectively authorises the body responsable for external security and the special services to "avoid debate" on such questions as air strikes, targeted executions and the treatment of enemy fighters.

Says Le Monde, it is clear that, despite the laws regulating armed conflict and international human rights, the French interventions in the Sahel, Iraq and Syria frequently take place in a legal grey zone.

If, in Iraq and the Sahel, France can claim that its activities are supported by UN resolutions identifying the Islamic State armed group as a threat to international peace, the situation in Syria is much less clear. Neither the Syrian government, nor the Security Council, nor the principle of legitimate defence can be invoked in support of the involvement of the Western allies.

Even if one accepts the broad logic that France is fighting alongside its allies to minimise the threat posed by Islamic State fighters to France, that would still leave individual air strikes requiring an additional justification, says Le Monde, under which such strikes would be carried out to prevent "imminent" or "current" threats.

Berlin attack suspect crossed Europe while armed

Right-wing Le Figaro looks at the fact that the man believed to be responsible for the Berlin Christmas market attack, Anis Amri, managed to cross Europe in possession of the weapon with which he killed the driver of the truck he subsequently used to mow down dozens of Christmas shoppers, killing 12.

The Italian police have revealed ballistic evidence showing that the same weapon was used in Berlin to kill the truck driver and was then used against an Italian police officer in Milan, where Amri was himself shot dead.

International investigators are now trying to discover if the gun had been used in earlier criminal or terrorist situations. It is clear that Anis Amri travelled between Germany, Holland, France and Italy in the wake of the Berlin attack.

The crime of offering a helping hand

Left-leaning Libération gives pride of place to Céderic Herrou, the French farmer who yesterday found himself before a court in the southern city of Nice, accused of having helped Eritrean and Sudanese migrants near the Franco-Italian border.

He faces a possible suspended eight-month prison sentence. Other related charges could see him fined 30,000 euros and spend five years behind bars.

This 37-year-old, who has never had any previous dealings or difficulties with justice, is accused of having helped 200 illegal migrants enter French territory. He is further accused of helping to set up accommodation for 57 migrants in a building belonging to the France's state-owned railway company.

He admits using two caravans and four tents on his own farm to house and help several hundred migrants who make the mountain crossing from Italy.

Libération quotes the then interior minister, Manuel Valls, as telling the French Senate in 2012 that the laws of the republic would never be used to punish those who were guilty of the crime of solidarity, through offering a helping hand to undocumented migrants.

Herrou is fully aware that, strictly speaking, his activities are illegal but says he has no choice. Silence and inaction would be worse than breaking the law, he says, adding that three migrants spent last night on his property.

The court will announce its verdict on 10 February.

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