February 1. The Interior Ministry reported a 45% decline in attacks against Jews and Muslims in France in 2016, but a 17.5% increase in attacks against Christians. The ministry said there were 1,125 attacks against Jews and Muslims in 2016, down from 2,034 attacks in 2015. It also reported 949 attacks against Christians in 2016, up from 808 attacks in 2015. Attacks against Christians jumped by 245% between 2008 and 2016.
February 2. Undercover police wearing burqas and qamis (traditional Arab gowns) were filmed apprehending a drug dealer in the Marseille's Bricarde district, a notorious no-go zone. Police confirmed the "totally normal camouflage technique" after the cellphone video was posted on social media. A local resident complained: "This gives the impression that you basically have to be Muslim or look like a Muslim in order to blend in." Another resident said:
"I think that trying to blend into the crowd in order not to attract attention is a good way of catching traffickers. What's more, the police are not really respected on the council estates, which have become no-go areas. Even the police are scared to go there, which isn't right. So it's hardly surprising that when they come they have to disguise themselves — although I can understand why lots of people are criticizing them for it."
February 3. Abdallah El-Hamahmy, a 29-year-old Egyptian national, attacked four French soldiers at the Louvre in Paris. He was carrying two backpacks when he approached the soldiers, who were on patrol at the entrance to the Carrousel du Louvre shopping mall, beneath the museum. When they told him that he could not bring his bags into the mall, he lunged at them with a machete and began shouting "Allahu Akbar." After a brief struggle, one of the soldiers opened fire, leaving El-Hamahmy in critical condition. El-Hamahmy had arrived in Paris legally on January 26 after obtaining a one-month tourist visa in Dubai. Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the attack "terrorist in nature."
February 5. Marine Le Pen, the leader of the anti-establishment National Front party, officially launched her campaign to become the next president of France. Speaking at a rally attended by thousands of her supporters in Lyon, Le Pen launched a two-pronged attack on globalization and radical Islam. She promised French voters a referendum on remaining in the European Union, and also to deport Muslims who are deemed a security risk to France.
February 5. A police officer was charged with raping a 22-year-old man named Théo during an identity check in the Paris suburb of Aulnay-sous-Bois. The man was allegedly beaten and then raped with a police baton. He was subsequently hospitalized for injuries to his rectum that required surgery. The arrest sparked riots in Paris and other cities across France. The Inspector General of the National Police (IGPN) later determined that the sodomy was an accident which occurred after Théo refused to allow himself to be handcuffed. "It is undoubtedly very serious, it is violence that has resulted in permanent disability, but it is not a rape," the IGPN said. The police finding sparked another wave of riots.
February 7. A majority (61%) of French respondents agreed with the statement, "All further migration from mainly Muslim countries should be stopped," according to a Chatham House survey of European attitudes toward Muslim immigration.
"In 2015, 7.3 million people born in France had at least one immigrant parent (11% of the population). Of these 7.3 million people, 45% are of European origin, most of whom are children of immigrants who arrived in France from Spain (8%) or Italy (12%) as early as the 1930s, or from Portugal in the 1970s onwards. One can assume, although it is not written in the study, that these people are of Christian origin.
"Another group is composed of Africans. 42% of the 7.3 million children born in France to an immigrant parent are of African background, mainly North Africa. They came from Algeria (15%), Morocco (11%), Tunisia (5%) and sub-Saharan Africa (11%). Although it is also not specified in the study, it would seem that the great majority are Muslim.
"Another group, children from Turkish migrant families, represent 4% of the 7.3 million. These people are classified as Asian; they are not included in the African and Muslim group. Most of these Turks are also presumably Muslim.
"A conclusion therefore would assume that 46% of the descendants of immigrants are Muslim and 45% are Christian. The remaining 9% are from East Asia or the Americas."
February 8. Two jihadists who were under house arrest in Bayonne evaded French authorities and left for Syria to join the Islamic State. The duo was intercepted in Slovenia. "This does not mean that Bayonne is a fertile ground for radicalization," said Éric Morvan, the prefect of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. "We are very far away, even if some individuals are closely monitored."
February 9. The Paris mayor's office announced a plan to build a 2.5 meter-high (8ft) wall of reinforced glass around the Eiffel Tower to protect against jihadist attacks. If approved, the €20 million ($21 million) project will begin later this year.
February 10. The Constitutional Council, the highest court in France, ruled that a law adopted in June 2016, which makes it a crime to consult jihadist websites, is unconstitutional. The ten-member council ruled that the law, which sets a two-year prison sentence and €30,000 ($32,000) fine for anyone "habitually" consulting jihadist websites, infringed on the fundamental freedom of communication. The case was brought before the court by Sami Khankan, a lawyer whose client, a convert to Islam named David Pagerie, was found guilty of the offense and was sentenced for two years by a court in Anger.
February 10. Cédric Herrou, a French farmer who helped migrants evade police to cross the French-Italian border, was handed a €3,000 suspended sentence. A court in Nice found him guilty of meeting migrants, most of them Eritrean, on Italian soil to bring them to France. The court found him not guilty of other charges, in particular housing illegal immigrants and placing them in a disused holiday home belonging to the SNCF rail company. France's immigration law punishes people who facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France. The law allows for sentences of up to five years in prison and a fine of €30,000. After the verdict, Herrou vowed to carry on helping migrants.
February 10. The Pentagon confirmed that it targeted an Islamic State jihadist, Rachid Kassim, a French national, in a strike by the U.S.-led coalition near Mosul, Iraq. Kassim, who was in his 30s and originally from Roanne in the Loire Valley, is believed to have inspired the June 2016 attack on a senior French police officer and his partner, and the July 2016 murder of an elderly priest, whose throat was cut.
February 11. Children and women are being raped by human traffickers inside the Camp de la Linière, a migrant camp in the northern French city of Dunkirk, according to the London-based Observer. Corroborating accounts from volunteers, medics, refugees and other officials revealed that sexual abuse is common within the camp, and that children and women are forced to have sex in return for blankets, food or the offer of passage to Britain. Accounts from those at the camp, which currently holds up to 2,000 refugees, of whom an estimated 100 are unaccompanied minors, portray a squalid site with inadequate security and atrocious living conditions.
A volunteer coordinator, testifying on the condition of anonymity, said:
"Sexual assault, violence and rape are all far too common. Minors are assaulted and women are raped and forced to pay for smuggling with their bodies.
"Although the showers are meant to be locked at night, particularly dangerous individuals in the camp have keys and are able to take the women to the showers in the night to force themselves on them. This has happened to women I know very well."
She said that one of the most in-demand products distributed to women in the Dunkirk Camp are adult diapers: "Women are too scared to go to the toilets in the night," she said. "None of the locks in the women's toilets in the camp work."
The volunteer also recounted several incidents where minors had been attacked:
"A 12-year-old girl was groomed in the camp by a man well over twice her age. When she no longer wanted to speak with him because his behavior towards her had become so obscene, he threatened her. A 13-year-old boy ended up returning to his home country having been raped in the camp."
Another statement provided by an ex-NGO worker, who spent more than three years volunteering at Dunkirk, said men targeted women and children because they were so vulnerable. "You see women in a male environment with men that are disconnected from reality, so there are serious incidents such as rape. Women, children, young teens, male and female." The worker referred to the children as being like "little steaks" because they were considered so appetizing and vulnerable to traffickers, of whom dozens reside on site.
One woman travelling by herself said that unaccompanied individuals were viewed as prey: "All men see that I'm alone, and it's the same for the children. Men see me and they want to rape me."
February 13. The South Korean embassy advised Korean tourists to avoid parts of Paris after a tour group was robbed in a tour bus stuck in traffic in Bobigny (Seine-Saint-Denis).
February 13. The breakdown in law and order in Muslim neighborhoods in Paris is being fueled by impunity for criminals and a lenient judicial system, according to Hugues Moutouh, a former advisor to the Interior Ministry. In an essay for Le Figaro, he wrote:
"Another night of riots in the Paris suburbs. Again and again the same scenes of urban violence, the same images of cars burned, attacks of police stations, Molotov cocktails launched on the forces of law and order....
"A part of the French political class, on the left, is even an accomplice to these abuses by justifying the revolt of those whom it still persists in calling 'young people'...
"The suburbs of our big cities are being gangrened by gangs of traffickers.... They no longer fear the police and increasingly do not hesitate to attack them violently. Public utilities, schools and police stations are routinely ransacked. Our forces of order are exhausted and disgusted... Politicians, by their attitudes, may also give the impression of endorsing or even encouraging public disorder."
February 13. A hundred Eritrean and Sudanese migrants rioted at a rest area in Steenvoorde, on the highway linking Lille to Dunkirk, in northern France. Police said the fight was over "control of the territory" for trucks on their way to Britain. "When the police arrived, the migrants scattered in the woods and there were no arrests," police said.
February 13. The Paris City Hall installed large boulders to dissuade migrants from setting up makeshift camps outside an official migrant shelter at Porte de La Chapelle. Migrants often sleep outdoors while waiting for one of the 400 spaces in the shelter to become available. Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo said the city wants to carry out "a reflection on the appropriation of public spaces to avoid the installation of new migrant camps in Paris."
February 14. Two men and a 16-year-old girl were charged in southern France on suspicion of planning a terror attack that the authorities said was imminent. The three, arrested on February 10 near the coastal city of Montpellier, were identified as Muslim convert Thomas Sauret, 20; his partner, a 16-year-old named only as Sarah; and Malik Hammami, 33. They were indicted for "criminal association in connection with a criminal terrorist enterprise."
February 18. The LigneRock Festival, an annual music festival in Saint-Christophe-du-Ligneron, Vendée, was cancelled after concert organizers received three anonymous phone calls warning of a "bloodbath" if the event went ahead as planned.
February 18. Police reported escalating tensions between Afghans and Sudanese at a new migrant reception center in northern Paris. "It was tense for a week," a police source told Le Monde. "The Sudanese and Afghans are not friends." The facility also reported a surge in migrants from Germany and Sweden. "Seventy percent of arrivals may not satisfy the criteria for asylum in France," the source said.
February 19. A 32-year-old man shouting "Allahu Akhbar" and "we are going to kill all of you" was shot by police after stabbing a female passerby and then attacking an elderly couple in Montauban, near Toulouse. The public prosecutor's office ordered the man to be hospitalized for treatment of "psychiatric disorders."
February 21. Prosecutors in Paris launched an investigation after two French Jews, aged 29 and 17, reportedly were assaulted by a group of men described as having a Middle Eastern appearance. The incident allegedly occurred at a traffic light in the Paris suburb of Bondy (Seine-Saint-Denis). The attackers pulled the victims, who were wearing skullcaps, out of their vehicle and attempted to sever their fingers with a hacksaw. The attackers hurled anti-Semitic slogans at the victims, including "Dirty Jews, you're going to die." Interior Minister Bruno Le Roux expressed "outrage" and pledged to do everything he could to find the perpetrators.
February 21. Three men were arrested in separate counter-terrorism raids in Paris, Marseille and Clermont-Ferrand. "The suspects had a plot that was sufficiently advanced for the police to decide to arrest them," according to anti-terrorism prosecutors in Paris.
February 21. The Paris region lost an estimated €1.3 billion ($1.4 billion) in tourist income in 2016 due to a steep decline in tourism since the 2015-2016 terror attacks on France. The number of tourists visiting Île-de-France, a region which includes Paris and the surrounding area, fell by 1.5 million in 2016. The steepest decline was in Chinese and Japanese visitors.
February 21. French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen cancelled a meeting with Lebanon's Grand Mufti after he insisted that she wear a headscarf. "The highest authority in the Sunni world did not have this requirement, therefore, there is no reason to wear the veil," Le Pen said in reference to her meeting with the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, Egypt, in May 2015. "You can pass on my respects to the Grand Mufti, but I will not cover myself up."
On Feb. 21, French presidential candidate Marine Le Pen cancelled a meeting with Lebanon's Grand Mufti after he insisted that she wear a headscarf. "You can pass on my respects to the Grand Mufti, but I will not cover myself up," she said. (Image source: France24 video screenshot)
February 22. The government's flagship program to deradicalize jihadists is a "total failure" and must be "completely reconceptualized," according to the initial conclusions of a parliamentary fact-finding commission on deradicalization. The report reveals that the government has nothing to show for the tens of millions of taxpayer euros it has spent over the past several years to combat Islamic radicalization in France, where 238 people have been killed in jihadist attacks since January 2015. The report implies that deradicalization, either in specialized centers or in prisons, does not work because most Islamic radicals do not want to be deradicalized.
February 22. A court in Paris sentenced two French jihadists, Ibrayima Sylla, 37, and Pierre Roubertie, 26, to a combined 38 years in prison for invading the home of Jacques Penhouet, a post office teller in Seine-et-Marne, and taking his pregnant wife and son hostage, in August 2013. While Roubertie, a convert to Islam, guarded the mother and son, Sylla dragged Penhouet to his workplace to empty the post office safe. The attackers made off with a meagre €2,080 ($2,100). Prosecutors said the two men had planned to use the stolen money to fund jihadist attacks on French soil.
February 28. Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, during a visit to Jakarta, Indonesia, insisted that there is no connection between Islam, radicalism and terrorism. "Terrorism has no nationality or religion," he said.