The story of a French jihadist who returned from Syria

By Feriel Alouti

A French jihadist who enrolled in Syria with the al-Nusra Front, allied to al-Qaeda, speaks here about the reasons he left for the war-torn country, his life on the ground and what happened when he returned to France where he is now due to be tried on charges of helping to prepare a terrorist attack. In this, his first interview, the young Muslim convert tells Feriel Alouti: “I don’t minimize what I did but was I a threat to France at any given moment? I went there to help Syrians, not to kill French people”.

Fatal drugs trial: what the French authorities are hiding

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The Rennes headquarters of the firm who carried out the drugs trial, Biotrial. © REUTERS/Stephane Mahe The Rennes headquarters of the firm who carried out the drugs trial, Biotrial. © REUTERS/Stephane Mahe

On January 17th, 2016, a volunteer died after taking part in a drugs trial in the west of France, while four others suffered suspected brain damage. The company who conducted the trial and supervisory authorities have insisted that the tragedy was “unprecedented” and could not have been foreseen. However, new evidence has emerged that a volunteer in a earlier trial with the same drug suffered side effects and that a later MRI scan shows he suffered a stroke. Yet this information appears to have been concealed by the medical and health authorities. Mediapart's science correspondent Michel de Pracontal reports.

The sexual harassment accounts that forced French parliament deputy speaker to quit

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French Member of Parliament Denis Baupin on Monday resigned from his role as deputy speaker of the lower house, the National Assembly, just hours after the publication of an investigation by Mediapart and France Inter radio in which several female colleagues, including a fellow MP, allege they were sexually harassed by him. Baupin, 53, who is married to housing minister Emmanuelle Coste, last month resigned from the EELV Green party to which all of his accusers belonged at the time of the alleged events. He denies the accusations, which include physical groping and other lewd behaviour and repeatedly sending sexually explicit phone text messages. Lénaïg Bredoux reports.

French economy minister Macron to bid for presidency

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French economy minister Emmanuel Macron is to announce he will make a bid as an independent candidate for the French presidency in elections due in 2017, Mediapart has been told by well-informed sources. Macron, 38, who launched his own political movement last month, is reported to be actively seeking funds for his campaign. The move, which Mediapart understands may be announced in early June, could well be the final blow for President François Hollande’s own ambitions for a second term in office and has heightened tensions between Macron and Prime Minister Manuel Valls. Laurent Mauduit reports.

The French mayor back in court for halting evictions of the poor

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Almost a third of the 60,000 population of Vénissieux, close to France’s second-largest city Lyon, in south-east France, live under the poverty line. Every year, its mayor, Michèle Picard, signs municipal decrees to prevent the ordered evictions of dozens of families from their homes, and the cutting off of water and energy supplies to hundreds of others. The decrees are just as regularly challenged in court by the local state authorities of the prefecture, which habitually find favour from the presiding magistrates. This week Picard was back in court to defend her case, just as a new series of evictions get underway. Michaël Hajdenberg reports.

French Catholic Church in new sex abuse scandal centred on ‘psychoanalyst’ priest

By Daphné Gastaldi, Mathieu Martiniere et Mathieu Périsse
Tony Anatrella. © DR Tony Anatrella. © DR

Over recent months, the French Catholic Church has become engulfed by revelations of paedophile activity by priests who allegedly benefited from protection from their hierarchy. Wide exposure of the cases, some dating back to the 1990s, has led to more witnesses coming forward to complain of sexual abuse by members of the Church. Among the latest cases to resurface now is that of a Paris priest who allegedly engaged for years in the sexual abuse of patients he received as a psychoanalyst. Mediapart can reveal that Tony Anatrella, an advisor to two Vatican councils and who teaches at a prestigious ecclesiastic college in Paris, has never been investigated by the Church despite numerous complaints made against him since 2001. Daphné Gastaldi, Mathieu Martiniere and Mathieu Périsse report.

Anthropologist Scott Atran on why Islamic State is a wider threat than realised

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Anthropologist Scott Atran, a research fellow with Oxford University who also teaches at University of Michigan and John Jay College in New York, is a leading expert in the study of the motivations of those who join jihadist ranks and the rise of the Islamic State group, and advises governments and international organizations on the issue. In this interview with Joseph Confavreux, he argues that the draw of IS is widely misunderstood, is not limited to disenfranchised communities, and that the organization can only be overcome by a different military, political and psychological approach by Western nations.

How Renault boss Carlos Ghosn ran over shareholders

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Last Friday, the board of French carmaker Renault insisted it would pay chief executive Carlos Ghosn a package of 7.2 million euros for his services in 2015, despite a revolt by shareholders who disapproved of the deal which economy minister Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday denounced as “excessive”. In this opinion article, Mediapart’s economic affairs correspondent Martine Orange argues that Ghosn, who is also paid a yearly 8 million euros as head of Nissan, is typical of a new caste of cynical oligarchs who are unaccountable to anyone, even to the very shareholders who first launched them on a path of greed.

Tariq Ramadan: profile of a Muslim bogeyman in France

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Seeking French nationality: Tariq Ramadan © Reuters Seeking French nationality: Tariq Ramadan © Reuters

Every few years France gets swept up in a controversy over Tariq Ramadan. And since 1995 much of the French establishment has vilified and shunned this Muslim preacher, writer and academic, whom they suspect of advocating radical Islamism and sectarian views. Now the Swiss-born intellectual with Egyptian roots is seeking French nationality in a move that is likely to provoke yet another row. Mathieu Magnaudeix profiles a controversial figure who is almost impossible to classify.

Protests, violence and France's love-hate relationship with the police

A clash during a protest in Paris on April 10th, 2016. © Jérôme Chobeaux A clash during a protest in Paris on April 10th, 2016. © Jérôme Chobeaux

There have been claims of police brutality during some of the many protests that have taken place in France in recent weeks against labour law reforms. Yet the police have also been applauded by sections of the public for their role in dealing with terrorist attacks over the past year or so. Meanwhile police officers themselves increasingly resent being painted as defenders of unpopular policies such as the employment law proposals. Matthieu Suc reports on the evolving role of the forces of law and order.

The French government's war on encryption

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Cables from the Israeli company Cellebrite that will be used to gather data from different telephones. © Reuters. Cables from the Israeli company Cellebrite that will be used to gather data from different telephones. © Reuters.

In recent months politicians and some senior legal figures in France have spoken out against the practice of encryption to protect people's data, emails and mobile phone calls, claiming it hampers investigations into crime and above all terrorism. Mediapart can reveal that a policy to force companies to leave so-called “backdoors” in their software to enable the security forces to bypass encryption was close to being adopted by the French government. But the data privacy watchdog in France warns that such measures would put people's computer security at even greater risk at a time of an increasing number of cyber threats. Jérôme Hourdeaux reports.

London's 'dream' French cake shops turn to nightmare for sacked staff

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Two years ago the French-owned Pâtisserie des Rêves opened two patisseries in London to considerable acclaim. “A cake shop like none other,” was how The Telegraph newspaper described one of the shops launched with the involvement of top French pastry chef Philippe Conticini. But just before Easter this year both stores closed abruptly and staff were not paid their final month's wages. Mathilde Goanec reports on the battle by the 22 former employees to get their money.

EDF staff rebel over Hinkley Point nuclear project

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Economy minister Emmanuel Macron and EDF boss Jean-Bernard Lévy are under fire over the Hinkley Point project. © Reuters Economy minister Emmanuel Macron and EDF boss Jean-Bernard Lévy are under fire over the Hinkley Point project. © Reuters

On Friday April 22nd the board of directors at French energy giant EDF announced they were delaying a final decision on building two European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) at Hinkley Point in Britain. The news came in the wake of an unprecedented rebellion by EDF staff against the 23-billion-euro project which some fear could even lead to the demise of the state-owned French company. Mediapart has seen a letter backed by 400 managers which calls on EDF's directors to face up to their corporate responsibilities, or face potential legal action if the Hinkley project damages the company. Martine Orange reports.

Why France is backtracking on free trade deal with US

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The French government was initially enthusiastic about the free trade agreement being negotiated between the European Union and the United States. However in recent months Paris, and in particular overseas trade minister Matthias Fekl, has taken a tougher line on the so-called TAFTA deal. Talks on the agreement resume in New York on Monday April 25th, while the day before President Barack Obama will raise the issue with German chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin. But as Ludovic Lamant reports, the chances of a deal being struck before the end of Obama's term of office look increasingly remote.

Sarkozy 2012 campaign spent double the legal cash limit

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Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 election campaign spent nearly 46 million euros. © Reuters Nicolas Sarkozy's 2012 election campaign spent nearly 46 million euros. © Reuters

An expert report has revealed for the first time the full extent of the massive overspend by Nicolas Sarkozy's failed election campaign in 2012. The document, seen by Mediapart, shows that the former president's campaign spent a total of nearly 46 million euros – double the fixed ceiling for a presidential candidate. The overspend includes a 'forgotten' 8.2 million euros whose existence only came to light late in 2015. Mathilde Mathieu reports.