French-Tunisian baker on the secrets behind Paris’ best baguettes

A French-Tunisian baker, who has won the right to supply the French presidential palace with baguettes for a year, says kneading is the secret behind his prize-winning loaves.

“A lot of people go too quickly with the kneading,” Mahmoud M’seddi told the BBC.

He is the latest winner of the annual best baguette in Paris competition.

Mr M’seddi makes his first visit to the Elysée Palace on Friday and will now start hand-delivering his baguettes.

He is the fourth North African in the last six years to win the award.

But Mr M’seddi said this was either coincidence, or maybe because a lot of the traditional bakeries in the Paris region are owned by North Africans.

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    He hopes to bump into French President Emmanuel Macron during his daily deliveries.

    “I’d like to meet the president – maybe we can take a photo together,” he told the BBC’s Newsday programme.

    He says he gets up early to ensure his loaves are properly fermented, which he believes is a vital part of the process of making baguettes. “A lot of people don’t leave the time for the dough to ferment,” he said.

    “You have to give it the time, so the fermentation happens naturally. I either get up really early, or sometimes I leave it overnight.”

    The 27-year-old will also receive a cash prize of nearly £5,000 from Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo during a bread festival in May.

    “I’m really very, very proud. It’s massive to be the best, especially as I’m the youngest to win this prize.”

    A jury of 15 members, which included last year’s winner Sami Bouattour, tasted a total of 138 baguettes over the course of four hours to find a winner, the Parisian reports.

    He said he had been preparing for the prize for a year and all his efforts had now paid off.

    “I’ll never forget this year,” he said.

Syria air strikes: Will West’s attack sway Syria’s Assad?

This was a heavier strike than a year ago – three targets rather than one.

Then, the US acted alone; this time it was joined by its French and British allies.

More than double the number of weapons were fired against Syrian targets than last year – a little more than 120 in all.

But the fundamental question remains the same.

Was this enough to achieve what the Americans say was their goal – to deter President Bashar al-Assad from using chemical weapons again?

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    Assad’s effective victory

    Since April a year ago Syria’s torment has not ended. But two fundamental things have changed.

    Firstly, the Assad regime has effectively won its war and terrorising civilians has played a key part in its strategy.

    President Assad may not control all of Syrian territory. But backed by Russia and Iran, there is nobody that can really stand against him. It is shortages of manpower, equipment and capacity that prevent him re-establishing wider control.

    Secondly, relations between Washington and Moscow – and between Russia and the West more generally – have deteriorated significantly, to the extent that senior international officials are now talking of a new Cold War.

    This was the context in which President Trump determined to send his punitive message to the Assad regime. And this is the context in which they will have received it.

    Will they be cowed or defiant? Will public bluster conceal a more fundamental re-think on the part of Mr Assad? Might Russia, whatever its spokesmen say, have a stern word with the Syrian leader? And if they did, would it have any effect?

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      Trump’s distraction

      Watching this crisis unfold from the United States, I found it both perplexing and in many ways worrying.

      There seemed to be a lack of focus and clarity on the part of the Trump administration. Hardly surprising, perhaps, when the president himself was increasingly bogged down in his own domestic difficulties as allegations and recriminations about alleged past affairs and misbehaviour returned to haunt him.

      At times he seemed more likely to strike out at the US justice system than at President Assad. Indeed over the past week, while much of the rest of the world worried about what Mr Trump might do about Syria, the media here has been dominated, absorbed and fascinated, in equal measure, by Mr Trump’s difficulties almost to the exclusion of all else.

      President Trump’s rhetoric suggested a major military strike against the Assad regime. In the event what has taken place falls far short of that. So what conclusion might Moscow and Damascus draw?

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        Soft targets

        The Pentagon seems to have gone out of its way to avoid both civilian and “foreign” casualties – for that read “Russians”.

        The three targets hit were chosen both for their central role in the chemical weapons programme but also because the risk of collateral damage was smallest.

        The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted at a subsequent briefing that the US had a list of other targets which it did not choose to strike this time. The clear message is that if the Assad regime resorts to chemical weapons again then more strikes will follow.

        But again, since last April there have been a number of other alleged chemical weapons attacks, generally using chlorine gas. But until now the US did not strike again. So what message did this send?

        Now the hope is that Mr Assad will change his behaviour. But what about the wider Syrian conflict? This brutal war shows no sign of ending. Many have pointed out that it is barrel bombs, artillery and bullets that are responsible for the overwhelming bulk of the deaths and mutilations in Syria, not chemical weapons, and yet it is these that prompt Western action.

        There is a good measure of truth in this sentiment, though for historical and cultural reasons chemical weapons have a particular horror in the West in the wake of their use in World War One. The treaty banning them is an important disarmament agreement and its weakening threatens to unwind years of progress.

        But the wider question is to what extent these latest strikes change the picture in Syria? Do they bring the conflict any closer to an end? Sadly the answer is almost certainly no.

        Only a short while ago – much to his generals’ horror – Mr Trump spoke about pulling all US troops out of Syria. Only days later he seemed to be threatening a major military intervention. There has been no consistency in the Trump administration’s position.

        There is simply no clear strategy to help bring the war to an end. Indeed one of the arguments for keeping US troops in Syria to bolster their local allies like the Kurds, was in fact to keep the Assad regime and its Iranian backers off-balance.

        Constraining Iran is about the only unifying theme in the Trump administration’s approach, but even this has not been raised to the level of a coherent strategy. In his statement after the strikes the President again asserted that the US was not seeking an indefinite presence in Syria.

        His hope was clearly that as others shouldered the burden (who?) the US might walk away. But this was followed by a catch-all statement about the intractability of the region and its problems, which hardly suggests a desire for a long-term engagement.

        If these are the signals coming from Washington, then why should Russia worry?

        Russia’s rise

        It has, through its military, and political support for the Assad regime, re-established itself as a significant diplomatic actor in the region. Russia, of course warned the US and its allies not to strike Syria. So in the wake of this attack what might Russia do?

        In Syria itself, it might seek to further undermine Washington’s already weak position but it is not going to war with the Americans – such fears, barring some extraordinary disaster, were always, probably, far-fetched.

        US Defence Secretary James Mattis has already hinted at Russia’s likely response noting that “we fully expect a significant disinformation campaign over the coming days by those who have aligned themselves with the Assad regime”.

        Indeed this campaign has in many ways already begun, with the Russians – who now have forces in the area where the recent chemical attack is alleged to have occurred – insisting first that there was no sign of a chemical attack and then, more recently, that the whole thing was staged by foreign agents to discredit Mr Assad and Moscow.

        This is the same Russia that is accepted by most Western governments to have been behind the attempted assassination of a former Russian intelligence officer and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury, using a nerve agent. It is the same Russia that has tried to influence the US and other recent elections. It is President Putin’s Russia that has seized part of Ukraine. One could go on. The misinformation battle has already been joined.

        The new Cold War

        There is indeed a new sort of Cold War developing. It may not risk nuclear annihilation, but because of that it is in many ways more direct and unpredictable, with Moscow taking much greater risks than it might have done in the past.

        Russia is not a global superpower like the Soviet Union. It no longer has an ideology that gathers support from liberation movements around the world. It is fundamental a middle-ranking regional power with a significant nuclear arsenal and a relatively weak economy. But it knows how to wield influence and how to conduct information warfare. And Mr Putin is determined to defend Russia’s interests – as he sees them – wherever he is able.

        Mostly this means in Russia’s near-abroad, that is countries close to its borders that have been traditional Russian spheres of interest – such as Georgia or Ukraine. Syria is almost an honorary member of the near-abroad, affording Russia an entry point to regain its influence in a region that still matters. Russia’s star is rising and Washington’s influence is in many ways on the wane.

        And this matters. For instability in the region is growing. The ripples from a previous US administration’s decision to remove Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq are still spreading. Iran was the principle benefactor of that decision. It has become a formidable regional player.

        Its growing influence in Syria risks a major conflict with Israel. Recently, Israel is believed to have struck at a Syrian base which was home to an Iranian facility.

        Tensions are rising. The region’s many fault-lines risk merging.

        And the US, British and French attacks over-night have inevitably thrown another pebble into the pool.

Syria air strikes: Trump hails ‘perfect’ mission

US President Donald Trump has hailed an overnight military strike on Syria as “perfectly executed”, adding “Mission Accomplished”.

The US, UK and France bombed three government sites, targeting what they said were chemical weapons facilities.

The strikes were in response to a suspected deadly chemical attack on the town of Douma last week.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said he condemned the Western strikes “in the most serious way”.

Russia, Syria’s main ally, had threatened military retaliation if any Russian forces had been hit.

He added: “So proud of our great military”, saying that after extra funding it would be “the finest our country has ever had”.

In a Friday evening address to the nation from the White House, he had said: “The nations of Britain, France, and the United States of America have marshalled their righteous power against barbarism and brutality.

“The purpose of our actions tonight is to establish a strong deterrent against the production, spread, and use of chemical weapons.”

The wave of strikes is the most significant attack against President Bashar al-Assad’s government by Western powers in seven years of Syria’s civil war.

France attack: Lakdim’s girlfriend ‘known to security services’

The girlfriend of the man who carried out last week’s attack in south-west France was known to the security services, local media report.

A source close to the investigation told the AFP news agency the 18-year-old French woman, who is in custody, showed “signs of radicalisation”.

Four people were killed and 15 injured in the attack on 23 March.

The gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, was on an extremist watch list but it was decided he was not a threat.

  • Arnaud Beltrame: France lauds policeman who swapped with hostage

    He was shot dead by police after killing and injuring a number of people in separate incidents, including taking hostages at a supermarket in the town of Trèbes.

    Tributes have been paid to the victims, including a French gendarme who was killed after swapping places with one of the hostages.

    According to French-language radio station RMC, the attacker’s girlfriend is a convert to Islam who has been known to security services for at least a year. She has not been named but remains in police custody.

    A 17-year-old said to have been a friend of the attacker is also being held.

    Lakdim, who was born in Morocco and became a French citizen in 2004, was a petty criminal before he was flagged as a potential security threat in 2014.

    During the attack, he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group and is said to have demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the most important surviving suspect in the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

    Prosecutor Francois Molins said Lakdim had been on an extremist watch-list due to “his radicalisation and his links with the Salafist movement”, a hard-line offshoot of Sunni Islam. However, there had been no indication he would carry out an attack.

France gun attack: Trèbes held memorial Mass for victims

A memorial Mass has been celebrated in the southern French town of Trèbes, in honour of four people killed by an Islamist gunman on Friday.

One of them, policeman Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, has been hailed as a hero for trading places with a captive during a siege at a supermarket.

The bishop at the church told hundreds of mourners that his actions were comparable to that of a saint.

It is the worst jihadist attack under Emmanuel Macron’s presidency.

The gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, had been on an extremist watch list and was known to authorities as a petty criminal, but intelligence services had determined he did not pose a threat. He was shot dead by police.

Lakdim, who pledged allegiance to Islamic State militants, was said to have demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the most important surviving suspect in the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

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    In the packed Church of Saint-Etienne in Trèbes, the bishop of Carcassonne and Narbonne compared the police officer’s actions with those of a Polish saint who volunteered to die in the place of a stranger at the World War Two death camp at Auschwitz.

    Mourners, which included members of the local Muslim community, lined the back and front steps of the church.

    “Your presence tells us that the creators of hatred will not win,” Bishop Alain Planet said to the Muslim congregates in his address.

    Outside the 14th-century church, the local imam later said according to the news agency AFP: “The [Muslim] community has been stabbed, Islam itself has been stabbed… by people who use symbols that are dear to our hearts.”

    The chief of French police, Richard Lizurey, attended the service and later told reporters that Col Beltrame was an inspiration to those working in the French security services.

    “It’s an heroic act. In fact an exceptional act, carried out in the heat of action,” the head of the Gendarmerie said. “We are proud. Proud to have counted Arnaud Beltrame among us.”

    The attack has shaken the rural town of 5,000 people, and flowers have been laid in front of the Super U shop where the hostage-taking took place, as well as outside Col Beltrame’s police barracks. A separate national memorial in Paris will also honour the killed officer in the coming days.

    Khadija, a 52-year-old restaurant owner, said she was shocked by what had occurred. “We thought this only happened in big towns,” she told AFP.

    Who were the victims?

    Jean Mazières

    Before the hostage-taking in Trèbes, Lakdim hijacked a car in nearby Carcassonne, shooting the Portuguese driver and killing passenger Jean Mazières, a retired winemaker in his sixties.

    He organised villages fetes and was described as “very jolly” by Marc Rofes, the mayor of Villedubert, where his family lives.

    “He loved life, he loved parties… we have lost someone who was liked by everybody,” he said of Mr Mazières, who was married and had one child.

    The driver of the car remains in a critical condition.

    Christian Medvès

    After opening fire on a group of police officers out jogging, wounding one, the gunman drove to the Super U in Trèbes, where he killed the shop’s chief butcher, Christian Medvès.

    An amateur runner and one-time local political candidate, Mr Medvès, 50, was described as having the “joy of life”.

    “We do not know yet what happened, but knowing Christian, I imagine he would have wanted to intervene,” his friend Franck Alberti told local paper La Dépêche du Midi.

    He was married with two daughters.

    Hervé Sosna

    Retired builder Hervé Sosna, 65, was at the butcher’s counter when Lakdim mounted his assault.

    The Trèbes resident “had a huge intellectual capacity” and was a capacious reader, especially of poetry, his half-brother told La Dépêche du Midi.

    “He never asked for anything, and he was killed, just like that.”

    Arnaud Beltrame

    The brave police officer has emerged as the human face of this attack, and his actions are being seen as a defiant response to the country’s would-be attackers – a reminder of the best of France, says BBC Paris correspondent Lucy Williamson.

    Although police managed to free hostages from the supermarket, Lakdim had held one woman back as a human shield, and Col Beltrame volunteered to swap himself for her.

    As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

    When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame, who was 44, was mortally wounded.

    He and his wife, Marielle, had been married in a civil ceremony but were planning a church wedding in June. The Catholic priest who was meant to officiate at the ceremony visited Col Beltrame in hospital, where Marielle was keeping vigil, before he died.

    World leaders, including UK PM Theresa May, have paid tribute to the officer, who was a highly-regarded member of the Gendarmerie Nationale and was described by President Macron on Saturday as someone who “fought until the end and never gave up”.

    “He gave his life for strangers. He must have known that he didn’t really have a chance. If that doesn’t make him a hero, I don’t know what would,” Col Beltrame’s brother, Cedric, told a French radio station on Saturday.

    Speaking to the BBC, Col Arnaud’s cousin Florence Nicolic described the officer as a person who was “so good at his job”.

    “Even though we were surprised and shocked when we heard what happened we were not surprised in the sense that that’s the thing he would do without hesitation,” Ms Nicolic said.

    Col Beltrame was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was later awarded the Cross for Military Valour for his peacekeeping work. On his return to France, Col Beltrame joined the country’s Republican Guard and was tasked with protecting the presidential palace.

    In 2017, he was named deputy chief of the Gendarmerie Nationale in the French region of Aude.

Arnaud Beltrame: France lauds policeman who swapped with hostage

Tributes are pouring in for a French police officer who died saving the lives of hostages in a supermarket siege by an Islamist gunman on Friday.

Lt-Col Arnaud Beltrame, 44, was shot and stabbed after he traded places with one of the captives following a shooting spree in southern France.

Flags are being flown at half-mast at gendarmerie bases across France.

His brother Cedric said Col Arnaud “didn’t have a chance”, adding that his actions were “beyond the call of duty”.

“He gave his life for strangers. He must have known that he didn’t really have a chance. If that doesn’t make him a hero, I don’t know what would,” Col Arnaud’s brother Cedric told a French radio station on Saturday.

Speaking to the BBC, Col Arnaud’s cousin Florence Nicolic described the officer as a person who was “so good at his job”.

“Even though we were surprised and shocked when we heard what happened we were not surprised in the sense that that’s the thing he would do without hesitation,” Ms Nicolic said.

French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to the officer, saying that Col Arnaud “fell as a hero” after showing “exceptional courage and selflessness”, adding that he deserved “the respect and admiration of the whole nation”.

UK PM Theresa May said the “sacrifice and courage” of the police officer would not be forgotten.

His actions helped bring an end to the siege that left three people dead.

The radical Islamist gunman, 25-year-old Redouane Lakdim, was eventually shot and killed by police.

Sixteen people were injured, two seriously, in what Mr Macron called an act of “Islamist terrorism”.

Lakdim was said to have demanded the release of Salah Abdeslam, the most important surviving suspect in the 13 November 2015 attacks in Paris, which killed 130 people.

Prosecutors are reportedly questioning two people in connection with the attacks, one of whom is thought to be the gunman’s partner while the other is believed to be a friend.

How will Col Beltrame be remembered?

Col Beltrame was a highly-regarded member of the Gendarmerie Nationale and was described by France’s president on Saturday as someone who “fought until the end and never gave up”.

He graduated in 1999 from France’s leading military academy in Saint Cyr and in 2003 became one of just a handful of candidates chosen to join the gendarmerie’s elite security response group GSIGN.

He was deployed to Iraq in 2005 and was later awarded the Cross for Military Valour for his peacekeeping work. On his return to France, Col Beltrame joined the country’s Republican Guard and was tasked with protecting the presidential palace.

In 2017, he was named deputy chief of the Gendarmerie Nationale in the French region of Aude, home to the medieval town of Carcassonne, where Lakdim began his deadly shooting spree on Friday.

As recently as December, Col Beltrame took part in a simulated terror attack on a local supermarket in the region.

Col Beltrame becomes the seventh member of France’s security forces to be killed in such attacks since 2012.

What led up to Friday’s siege?

The violence began on Friday morning in Carcassonne, where Lakdim hijacked a car. He killed a passenger – whose body was later found hidden in a bush – and injured the driver.

He then shot at a group of policemen who were out jogging, wounding one of them.

Lakdim is then believed to have driven a short distance to the small town of Trèbes, where he stormed into the Super-U supermarket, shouting, “I am a soldier of Daesh [Islamic State]!”

He killed two people – a customer and a store worker – before seizing others as hostages.

At what point was the officer wounded?

Mr Collomb told reporters on Friday that police officers had managed to get some people out of the supermarket but the gunman had held one woman back as a human shield.

It was at this point, he said, that Col Beltrame had volunteered to swap himself for her.

As he did so, he left his mobile phone on a table with an open line so that police outside could monitor the situation.

When police heard gunshots, a tactical team stormed the supermarket. The gunman was killed and Col Beltrame was mortally wounded.

After the announcement of his death early on Saturday, France’s Gendarmerie Nationale – a police force part of the military – honoured its fallen “comrade”, saying Col Beltrame “gave his life for the freedom of the hostages”.

What do we know about Redouane Lakdim?

Lakdim, was born in April 1992 in Morocco and had French nationality. He was known to French intelligence services.

Prosecutor Francois Molins said Lakdim had been on an extremist watch-list due to “his radicalisation and his links with the Salafist movement”, a hardline offshoot of Sunni Islam. However, subsequent investigations by intelligence services had not turned up any signs he would act, he said.

In 2011, Lakdim was found guilty of carrying a prohibited weapon and in 2015 he was convicted for drug use and refusing a court order, Mr Molins said.

Earlier, Mr Collomb said that though Lakdim had been known to authorities as a petty criminal, they “did not think he had been radicalised”.

Lakdim lived in an apartment in Carcassonne with his parents and several sisters. A neighbour saw him taking one of his sisters to school on Friday morning.

The family’s apartment was raided by police on Friday afternoon.