French 'Eco-terrorism' arrests The 'grocer terrorists'

Gerrard Winstanley office at
Sat Jan 3 23:44:09 GMT 2009

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?

Thursday, 18 December 2008

A police officer arrests a suspect on in the French city of Tarnac
where alleged anarchists have been arrested

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

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

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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