The case of French cement giant Lafarge and its alleged ties to the ISIL (ISIS) group in Syria has sparked an ongoing debate in France over the involvement of multinational companies in financing armed groups.
It also raised questions about the responsibility of the French state and about the actions of Paris when it came across information about the operation of the cement manufacturer in ISIL-occupied Syria.
Tuesday, France’s Supreme Court turned over a decision by a lower court to dismiss the charges against Lafarge for complicity in crimes against humanity in Syria’s civil war.
The Cassation Court’s ruling was a major setback for Lafarge, who is accused of paying nearly 13 million euros ($ 15.3 million) to armed groups, including ISIL, to build his cement factory in northern Syria by the early years of the country. war.
Lafarge, which merged with Swiss company Holcim in 2015 to become the largest cement manufacturer in the world, was formally investigated in France for its efforts to keep a factory in Syria after the conflict broke out in 2011.
According to documents published by the French daily Liberation and those of Turkey Anadolu Agency French intelligence officials have been aware in recent weeks of an agreement between Lafarge and ISIL in 2014.
The liberation report shows that a document from the Directorate-General for External Security (DGSE), dated 26 August 2014 and indicated as a ‘confidential defense’, shows that the French state was’ well aware of the circumstances under which Lafarge’s activities in Syria maintained, in territory partially occupied by the Islamic State ”.
“This is a document that leaves no doubt,” the French newspaper said. “An agreement has been reached between the cement manufacturer and IS for the continuation of the commercial activity,” he added.
According to the report by the Anadolu Agency, relations between Lafarge and the French intelligence agencies began on January 22, 2014 when the security director, Jean-Claude Veillard, sent an e-mail to the intelligence directorate of the Interior Ministry. .
In his email, Veillard said the company needs to maintain relations with ‘local actors’ in order to continue its operations in Syria.
He recalls the negative news that has appeared about the business and asks if managers and the headquarters of the business are threatened.
According to documents unveiled by Anadolu Agency, there were more than 30 meetings between Lafarge and the French domestic, foreign and military intelligence services between 2013 and 2014.
“Lafarge apparently kept their presence in Syria open with the knowledge and complicity of the French state for espionage and intelligence services,” said Tallha Abdulrazaq, an academic specializing in terrorism and security at the University of Exeter’s Strategy and Security Institute.
“In order to do that, money has to be paid to ISIS for the right to continue production, to pay tolls to ensure free passage, and it has even apparently bought raw materials from ISIS that are needed for the production of cement, “said Abdulrazaq.
According to Abdulrazaq, France’s actions around the cement giant show hypocrisy in the country’s approach to its Muslim community, which is the largest in Europe with more than five million people.
The verdict in the Lafarge case comes as a trial of unprecedented magnitude began in France this week over the November 2015 attacks in Paris that killed about 130 people and wounded hundreds more.
In the incident, gunmen with suicide bombers who attacked six pubs and restaurants, the Bataclan Concert Hall and a sports stadium were left with deep traces in the soul of the country.
The recent attempt by French President Emmanuel Macron to regulate Islam in the country has been criticized, with some observers claiming that the minority is being jointly punished for the actions of a fringe group that carried out attacks.
Macron said on October 2 last year that Islam was a religion that was ‘in crisis’ worldwide, while outlining plans for a new law aimed at tackling ‘Islamic separatism’.
On October 16, 47-year-old teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded in a middle-class suburb in Paris. He showed his students the caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in a lesson on free speech.
On October 29, three people were stabbed to death in a knife attack at a church in the southern city of Nice. Macron described both attacks as “Islamist terrorism”.
“France is mainly duplicate because it targets Muslims in the interior through Islamophobic legislation that seeks to restrict and silence their freedoms at the grassroots level by ‘dividing’ them as separate from French society, all in the name of fighting terrorism, “Abdulrazaq said.
“Meanwhile, the French are actively involved in the approval of a multinational corporation to do tens of millions of dollars in business to one of the most violent and notorious extremist jihadist groups in the world,” he added. “Hypocrisy falls into the jaw.”
Lafarge, whose Syrian subsidiary paid for the armed groups through intermediaries, was accused in 2018 of endangering the lives of former employees at the cement factory in Jalabiya, northern Syria.
On November 18, 2018, an information officer named AM 02 appeared in court and admitted that Lafarge was his source of information in Syria, reports Anadolu Agency.
The information officer told the judge how the French secret services benefit from the Lafarge factory.
“We approached the situation only opportunistically and took advantage of Lafarge’s continued work,” the intelligence official said in court.
In the records, intelligence official Daesh (ISIL) did not rule out saying that in 2012-2014 Lafarge sent cement to all armed groups in Syria (including the al-Nusra Front).
The ISIL reportedly built fortified shelters and tunnel networks against the US-led coalition with the supplied cement.
According to Abdulrazaq, “ISIL at the time was trying to run a quasi-state, so cement would have been important as a building material in both civilian and military applications.”
According to French media, the company also provided materials and fuel to the armed group to continue its activities in the Jalabiya region.
In November 2019, an appeals court dropped the crimes against the charges of humanity after it was found that four rights organizations could not act as plaintiffs in the case.
Lafarge has since acknowledged that its Syrian subsidiary has paid intermediaries to negotiate with armed groups to move personnel and goods within the war zone.
But it denies any responsibility for the money that ended up in the hands of the groups and fought to drop the case.
It was ordered to give $ 35 million to the French authorities as a deposit before the trial.
France entered its pre-election season this month.
It will select the final presidential candidates before the April vote, as polls show the presidential run-off will repeat the centrist Macron against far-right Marine Le Pen in a repeat of the last election.
Although Macron’s approval ratings have grown in recent months due to the handling of the coronavirus crisis, the revelations raised by the Lafarge case could have a detrimental effect on its popularity.
‘The French government’s knowledge of and complicity in the financing of ISIS’s terrorist activities will not please the French voters. “After all, ISIS was responsible for some of the most serious terrorist attacks on French soil,” said Abdulrazaq.
In addition, the latest findings could empower the Syrian government whose Russian-backed forces have been accused by Amnesty International in 2020 report of actions amounting to “war crimes”.
“The narrative will be clear – the West has conspired to unleash terrorists on Syrian soil,” Abdulrazaq said. “The French government has given the Syrian regime a further justification for its crimes against humanity and war crimes.”