Blow for French writers in Moroccan royal blackmail case

This file photo taken on August 29, 2015 shows a Moroccan man reading the latest issue of Al-Massae daily newspaper in Arabic with on its page portraits of the two French investigative journalists who have been charged in Paris with trying to blackmail the king of Morocco out of two million euros ($2.2 million) in hush money on August 29, 2015 in Rabat. (AFP / FADEL SENNA)
Updated 10 November 2017
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Blow for French writers in Moroccan royal blackmail case

PARIS: A French appeals court on Friday dealt a blow to two journalists accused of trying to blackmail the king of Morocco by ruling that secret recordings could be used as evidence against them.
Lawyers for French investigative journalists Eric Laurent and Catherine Graciet argued unsuccessfully that tapes of conversations between them and a Moroccan official were inadmissible.
“It’s a very big victory,” Patrice Spinosi, a lawyer for the king told AFP. “There is no longer any obstacle to going ahead to conviction.”
Laurent, 69, and Graciet, 42, were charged with blackmail and extortion for demanding three million euros from Moroccan King Mohammed VI not to bring out a book purportedly containing damaging revelations about him.
They were arrested in Paris in August 2015 after a secretly recorded meeting with a Moroccan official at which they allegedly accepted payments of 40,000 euros ($47,000) each, a source close to the French investigation told AFP.
They were in possession of 80,000 euros in cash as they left the meeting, which occurred after the monarch had filed a case with Paris prosecutors.
The Moroccan government claims that the payment was the first instalment of a total of two million euros demanded by the authors in exchange for not publishing their book.
The journalists allegedly demanded three million euros initially, but reduced the figure after further negotiations. They deny the charges.
Laurent and Graciet published a highly critical book on Mohammed VI in 2012 titled “The Predator King” about his extensive business dealings which was banned in Morocco.
Their new book had been slated for publication in early 2016.
Laurent was previously recorded during two other meetings with the envoy, Hicham Naciri, a lawyer.
In an earlier preliminary hearing, the court judged the recordings were made with the “indirect participation” of French investigators “without the consent” of the two journalists, which it said contravened the principle of a fair trial.
But on Friday the court delivered its final ruling, saying police had played a “passive” role and could not be considered to have been “truly involved” in the bugging.
Investigating magistrates must now decide whether to send the case to trial or throw it out.


5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

Updated 21 September 2018
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5 years after mall Kenya attack, Al-Shabab’s threat grows

  • Analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique
  • The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011

NAIROBI: Five years after Al-Shabab fighters burst into a luxury shopping mall in Kenya’s capital, hurling grenades and starting a days-long siege that left 67 people dead, analysts say the Somalia-based extremist group has been pushed down Africa’s east coast as far as Mozambique as its regional threat expands.
The assault on Westgate Mall on a sunny weekend afternoon horrified the world and exposed weaknesses in Kenya’s security forces after it took them hours to respond. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta promised reforms.
Now the government of East Africa’s commercial hub is praising itself, saying security forces have effectively limited attacks to areas near the Somali border. “We learnt our mistakes and corrected them,” police Inspector General Joseph Boinnet told reporters this week, pointing out real-time intelligence sharing among security agencies.
Analysts, however, say few sustainable lessons have been learned while Al-Shabab, the deadliest Islamic extremist group in sub-Saharan Africa, has changed its strategy with devastating effects.
The Al-Qaeda-linked extremist group has vowed retribution on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia since 2011. The group has killed hundreds of people inside Kenya, which has been targeted more than any other of the six countries providing troops to an African Union force in Somalia.
“Al-Shabab’s goal in carrying out attacks outside Somalia is to pressure authorities within the region to pull their troops out of Somalia. That aim has not been achieved and all indications are that the movement continues to plot assaults in cities across East Africa to advance its objectives,” said Murithi Mutiga, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.
A new report by the think tank says some Al-Shabab extremists previously based on the Kenyan coast have moved south into Tanzania and, in response to crackdowns there, relocated into northern Mozambique and forged ties with local fighters.
The Kenyan government’s initial response to the Westgate attack, involving blanket arrests of Muslims and indiscriminate crackdowns aimed at ethnic Somalis, inflamed communities and made matters worse, Mutiga said.
The government later changed its approach and appointed local ethnic Somalis to lead security operations in the northeast near the Somali border.
That area, however, has seen growing attacks by Al-Shabab that have killed more than 100 police officers since May 2017.
“Kenyan security officials seem to have failed to contain that threat,” Mutiga said. Other major attacks since Westgate in the region, often targeting Christians, have included massacres of bus passengers and the assault on Garissa University in 2015 that left 147 people dead.
The pressure on Al-Shabab since Westgate has included training and counterterrorism equipment provided by Western countries including the US and Britain.
The attack also changed the way Kenyan institutions are protected. Shopping malls, office buildings, university campuses, government facilities and the main airport have invested substantial sums in additional security, including surveillance.
As Al-Shabab focuses its attacks largely on Christians in Kenya’s Muslim-majority border communities, it has managed to stall economic activity and education, said Kenya-based security analyst and former US Marine Andrew Franklin. Many children who drop out of school as teaching staff flee become targets for recruitment by the extremists.
Kenyans make up the majority of Al-Shabab’s foreign fighters.
While economic activity in the borderlands weakens and corruption grows, morale and effectiveness of security forces has eroded, Franklin said.
There is a “tremendous amount of complacency” among security agencies, he said, leading to the conclusion that senior officials have little interest in countering Al-Shabab’s insurgency.
For Andrew Munya, who was injured in the Westgate attack when shrapnel hit his left shoulder, Kenya will not be safe until Al-Shabab is dealt with for good.
“There is no difference whether a life is lost in the border areas or in the city,” said Munya, who later became a security consultant while vowing to never to let his community and family become victims. “All life is precious and must be protected.”