Cabbage Patch Revolutionaries

Mark Barrett marknbarrett at
Thu Dec 18 10:16:55 GMT 2008

*Cabbage-patch revolutionaries? The French 'grocer terrorists'*

The villagers of Tarnac were charmed by the self-sufficient students who set
up a commune in their midst. Little did they realise that their new
neighbours were anarchists bent on overthrowing capitalism. Or so the police
claimed. So what is the truth?

They are brilliant ex-students from bourgeois families who live in a farm
commune in the green, empty, centre of France. To the delight of local
people, they have revived the defunct village shop and bar. They are also,
according to the French Interior Minister, "ultra-leftist-anarchist"
subversives, members of an "invisible committee" plotting the violent
downfall of capitalism.

Since nine of the alleged "terrorist grocers" were arrested one month ago,
severe doubts have surfaced about the French government's allegations.
Villagers at Tarnac in Corrèze in south-west France and parents of the
suspects have campaigned for the investigation against the so-called "Tarnac
Nine" to be dropped. The whole notion of an "ultra-left" terrorist threat is
an absurdity, they say: the convenient fantasy of an "authoritarian",
centre-right government.


But what of the explosives planted this week – a few days before Christmas –
in Printemps, the Paris department store? All the evidence suggests that
this bizarre incident was not the work of an Afghan group, as a rambling
warning letter to the French news agency claimed. Investigators, and
independent experts, said yesterday that the ageing, unfused, and therefore
non-threatening sticks of dynamite found in a lavatory cistern were probably
planted by a lone crank or by a would-be subversive group on the far left.

The French intelligence expert and former intelligence official Eric Dénécé
believes that the evidence points leftwards. "[The ultra left] is a threat
which should be taken seriously," he said yesterday. "There is a real
resurgence of these movements, driven by groups in Germany, Britain and the
United States.

"They attract relatively young people, who are often highly intelligent.
They start off in eco-terrorism or in the most radical wings of the animal
rights or anti-capitalist movements."

The evidence that the Printemps "toilet bomb" was planted by someone on the
far left comes mostly from the language of the warning letter to Agence
France-Presse. There were no religious references or Koranic texts. Instead,
the letter spoke of "capitalist" stores and "revolutionary" movements –
words never used by Islamist radicals.

Police sources indicated yesterday that the "Islamist" line of inquiry for
the Printemps "bomb" had been more or less abandoned. They said that
inquiries now concentrated on the possibility of a malicious stunt by
someone with a grudge against the store or a "clumsy" attempt to spread fear
by an extremist group, "probably on the left".

The evidence for an ultra left-wing Printemps plot is thin – so far. The
evidence against the Tarnac Nine is equally thin – but intriguing. Seven of
the "nine" have been placed under formal investigation by magistrates but
released pending further inquiries. Two – the alleged ringleaders, a
boyfriend and girlfriend, Julien Coupat and Yildune Levy, aged 34 and 25 –
remain in custody, accused of "associating with wrong-doers with terrorist
aims". Their parents have been refused permission to see them.

One month after the arrests, the only evidence assembled against the couple
suggests that they were linked to a series of crude but effective attacks on
the overhead power cables of railway lines.

In October and November, small, hooked, U-shaped pieces of metal were
suspended on the 25,000 volts power supply of high-speed lines, bringing
down the wires when a Train à Grande Vitesse (TGV) passed. No one was hurt,
or could possibly have been hurt in these escapades, except the attackers
themselves. This was vandalism certainly and maybe politically motivated
sabotage. The attacks caused enormous annoyance and heartache for thousands
of passengers whose trains were blocked for several hours. But can such
activities really be described as "terrorism"?

On 8 November, M. Coupat and Mme Levy were briefly questioned and released
by police in the early hours of the morning on a small road east of Paris,
250 miles from their home in Corrèze. A couple of miles away, an hour or so
later, a TGV ran into one of the U-shaped hooks on a high-speed line.

It was three days before investigators linked M. Coupat's name to a
subversive book published last year, signed by the "Invisible Committee".
The book describes acts of civil disobedience, including ways to block
railway lines. A dawn police raid was made on 11 November on the commune
where he lived in the pretty hill village of Tarnac. Co-ordinated raids were
also made on the homes of Mme Levy and other friends of M. Coupat in the
greater Paris area, in Rouen and in Lorraine.

Defence lawyers say that no evidence has yet been produced to link any of
the other suspects to the TGV attacks. No direct evidence – other than their
presence close to the scene of one incident – has been produced against M.
Coupat and Mme Levy. Residents of the Tarnac commune – up to 20 young people
and children at any one time – did not appear to be sinister or reclusive.
All were on good terms with their, mostly well-heeled, parents. They were
admired by their conservative, farming neighbours for their hard work and
their resurrection of the village shop.

Leaks from the police investigation suggest, darkly, that they avoided
mobile phones because they wished to remain "undetected". The commune
members say that they shunned them as symbols of a consumerist society.

The case of the "Tarnac Nine" seemed initially to be an enormous coup for
the French government and especially for the Interior Minister, Michèle
Alliot-Marie. Ever since she took office last May, Mme Alliot-Marie has been
warning, publicly and privately, that Europe faces a grave threat from a new
generation of "ultra-leftist" terrorists, who hope to revive the 1970s
activities of the German Baader-Meinhof gang, the Italian Red Brigades and
the French "Action Directe".

On the afternoon of 11 November, Mme Alliot-Marie announced the arrest of
the Tarnac Nine, amid great media fanfare. They were suspected, she said, of
being part of a secret, well-organised movement of "ultra-left, anarchist,
autonomists" with international links.

"These people wanted to attack the SNCF [the publicly owned French railway
company] as a symbol of the state," she said.

Since then, the investigation has made little progress. Judges ordered the
release of two suspects, then another three. Villagers in Tarnac have
protested against what they see as an "absurd" attack on young people living
a harmless, alternative lifestyle and providing useful local services. A few
days ago, more than 150 people attended a support meeting in the Tarnac
village hall, addressed by the parents of four of the suspects.

"In Tarnac, they planted carrots without bosses or leaders," said the mother
of one suspect, who declined to be identified. "And these are the people
that the police suspect of being super-organised."

Awkward questions have been asked in the French press and by opposition
politicians and even within President Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right
government. There may be evidence against two of the "nine", but how can
aggravated vandalism be described as "terrorism"? Why has so much been made
by Mme Alliot-Marie of what may – at most – have been an act of priggish
civil disobedience by a couple of brilliant young people with
idealist-extremist ideas?

"Our freedom is under threat. We are living in a police state," said
Jocelyne Coupat, the mother of the chief suspect. She and her husband,
Gérard, both doctors, have campaigned tirelessly for their son's release and
asserted his innocence. They live in a wealthy suburb west of Paris and have
always voted for the centre-right.

Michel Levy, the father of Yildune, has a rather different background. He
took part in the student protests of May 1968 and remains a friend of the
leader of the protests, Daniel Cohn-Bendit. His daughter is an archaeologist
with a first class degree. Her boyfriend, M. Coupat, attended prestigious
business and economics colleges in the Paris area and speaks six languages.
"They are trying to make them out to be Bonnie and Clyde. It's a load of old
rubbish," said M. Levy.

Benjamin Rosoux, 30, the main "shopkeeper" at Tarnac, was among the seven
people arrested and later released. He has since complained to the French
press about the "surreal" questioning by police investigators. He said that
they asked questions such as: "Do you have orgies in your commune?" or made
accusations such as: "Your heads are full of rubbish because you have read
too many books."

He confesses to left-wing "militant" views but rejects the accusation that
the Tarnac commune was a kind of terrorist base camp.

By using the word "terrorist" as "a kind of badge of infamy", he said, the
government was trying to undermine "anyone who opposes its policies, anyone
who has a different vision of the world". Both investigations – the
Printemps toilet bomb and the "terrorist" grocers of Corrèze – continue...
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