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France’s ambiguous relations with Terrorism

August 18, 2022 at 7:49 pm

Vehicles of Turkish Armed Forces are being deployed to the Syrian border on 16 February 2020 [Cem Genco/Anadolu Agency]

It was perplexing to see the French Newspaper, Le Monde, publishing on 17 August 2022, an opinion piece by writer, Patrice Franceschi, and former French Foreign Minister, Bernard Kouchner. The piece, which peddles loads of misinformation and fallacies, calls upon Western nations to discourage Turkiye from launching a military operation against ‘the Kurds of Syria’.

This op-ed is bewildering because of several reasons. First, the authors construct a fairy-tale of a ‘Syrian Kurdistan’ allegedly under threat by Turkiye. This imagery could not be farther from the truth. The PKK/PYD/YPG has engaged in the ethnic cleansing of Arab and Turkmen communities living in north-east Syria. As a result, thousands of people have been forcibly displaced. Moreover, dozens of terrorist actions were launched by the PKK/PYD/YPG against Turkish and Syrian civilians (including Kurds). They also routinely kidnap Kurdish children to forcibly indoctrinate and conscript them. Consequently, the PKK/PYD/YPG are far away from representing Syrian Kurds’ aspirations.

The second aspect that is puzzling is that the debate on terrorism should have been settled by now, two decades after the launch of the so-called ‘global war on terror’. For a previous diplomat, one would have thought it is common sense that terrorism is a scourge that threatens all States. Not to condemn terrorism is to condone it, especially since the US and EU have recognised the terrorist group in question (PKK) as an international terrorist organisation for two decades.

Interestingly, the op-ed, penned by Franceschi and Kouchner, was published on the same day that Mali complained officially to the UN, accusing France of supporting terrorists in Mali with intelligence and weapons.

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Such information is not surprising. France has long flirted with terrorist groups and used shadowy means to further French interests. Many do not know that the French government conducted the first terrorist act in the history of civil aviation in 1956. In breach of international rules, the French authorities hijacked an airliner carrying four historic FLN leaders (including Ben Bella) from Rabat to Tunis.

France has harboured, for four decades, extreme-left terrorists from the Italian Red Brigades. The latter hid in France and benefited from French protection. Even after French authorities changed their stance in 2021 following insistent complaints from the Italian government, the French establishment refused to extradite them to be prosecuted in Italy for their terrorist acts. A similar sanctuary was provided to the Basque terrorist group, ETA, for a long time.

Some may think this policy could be an exception, but this is not the case. Many policies enacted in France in the 1980s during the Mitterrand presidency had to go through the President’s advisor, Regis Debray, who was previously part of the Che Guevara minions in Latin America.

In fact, more than just being a sanctuary, France engaged directly in terrorist activities, such as the violent action directed against Greenpeace in New Zealand. The sinking of the boat “Rainbow Warrior” was executed on 10 July 1985 by the French foreign intelligence services at the behest of the French president. The covert operation was exposed, leading to the detention of two French agents. As a result, French Defence Minister Charles Hernu resigned.

Furthermore, Le Monde reported in 1987 that French officials visited Syria in September 1986 to strike a deal. Terrorist activities would cease in France in return for arms, economic assistance and French diplomatic support. Subsequently, pro-Syrian and pro-Iranian terrorist operatives were no longer bothered by French law enforcement for a long time.

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These are not just ghosts of the past. More recently, in the fight against Daesh, the French intelligence services were fully aware that LaFarge, one of the largest French companies operating in Syria, was financing Daesh terrorists. They did nothing to prevent such practices. As a result, more than 13 million US dollars was given to terrorists. A Paris court later indicted LaFarge for ‘complicity in crimes against humanity’ in Syria.

These examples represent merely the tip of the iceberg. Therefore, it is rich for a former Foreign Minister, whose nation has entertained such shadowy relations with terrorists for decades, to hide behind the pretext of counterterrorism (against Daesh) to support equally menacing terrorist groups (PKK/PYD/YPG).

Similarly, to claim that a Turkish counterterrorism operation against the YPG would result in an ISIS resurgence is simply idiotic. No one has fought the terrorism of Daesh more than Turkiye. Turkish law enforcement agencies have dismantled hundreds of sleeper cells, leading to the arrest of key Daesh terrorist leaders. Turkey arrested more than 5,000 individuals for being members of Daesh. On the other hand, the PKK/PYD/YPG was responsible for the escape of dangerous Daesh members from Al-Hasakah Prison in Syria. In other instances, they released them from detention centres in exchange for bribes.

Finally, beyond all the ludicrous points made by such an ill-conceived opinion article, there are also other questions. What prompted Kouchner to return to the public realm? Since Sarkozy sidelined him, he became irrelevant in French politics. His reputation suffered blow after blow after the numerous corruption and other sulfureous scandals. Whether in Haiti, Chad, Congo, Burma, or France, Kouchner has all kinds of skeletons in his closet.

After a decade of quasi-absence, Kouchner has, perhaps, thought of rebuilding his reputation and political career via some Turkiye bashing. This move only confirms that Kouchner has been out of touch for some time. Constructing the image of Turkiye as the bogeyman is not only infantile and futile, but also short-sighted and counterproductive.

While the Turkish leadership is busy solving the global grain crisis and spearheading efforts to bring peace and stability to Ukraine, such petty attacks from dirty politicians will only reinforce Turkiye’s will to do what is right. Accordingly, Ankara will continue to stand against terrorist designs targeting the territorial integrity of Turkiye, Syria, Iraq and beyond.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.