France faces same big questions after latest attack

The latest terror attack has left France facing similar questions to those it has tackled numerous times since the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January last year. So how will France react?

France faces same big questions after latest attack
Photo: AFP
France saw yet another attack on its soil on Tuesday when two men killed a priest in what President Francois Hollande described as a “vile terror attack”.
The number of victims might not have been on the scale of the Nice or Paris attacks but the slaying of a Catholic priest nevertheless strikes at the heart of France.
And just like in the aftermath of the numerous other terror attacks that France has faced in recent weeks and months, the country will want a response to certain questions.
How will the government react now?
It feels like the French government is running out of realistic options. It brought the soldiers out on the street after the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher store killings in January 2015  declared a state of emergency after the Paris massacre which allowed sweeping powers and built a coalition launched attacks on Isis in Syria.
After Nice it extended the state of emergency for a fourth time, this time with extra powers for searching and surveillance of suspects and planned to call up thousands of reservists. And President François Hollande also vowed to step up the military action in the Middle East.
Despite repeatedly stating that France was “at war” the government has resisted some of the calls from the right wing opposition to introduce more draconian measures. 
Those measures include rounding up all radicalized individuals who could be a threat and holding them in a special retention centre. Others on the right have called for ground troops to be sent in to Syria and Iraq.
After the slaying of the priest, Hollande and his government will come under more pressure to do more to stop the steady flow of attacks. With next year's presidential elections slowly approaching the Socialist president may be forced to opt for more right wing policies to keep the likes of Marine Le Pen at bay.
Sociologist and specialist on extremism Raphael Liogier told The Local that after each attack the government shifts slightly to the right.
“It’s like a photographer saying to a group of people standing on the edge of the cliff, ‘move to the right, a little more to the right, more, more, more and then they all fall off the cliff,” Liogier warned.
France rules out retention centres for Islamist radicals
What to do with those with “Fiche S” individuals?
Reports say that one of the men behind the church attack had been given a “fiche S” after being condemned for associating with terrorists and trying to head to Syria in April last year.
He had reportedly been given an electronic bracelet upon his release from a detention centre in March this year, where he was sent after returning to France from an attempted cross into Syria. 

But if a man who reportedly had a fiche S file was under surveillance but still able to carry out an attack on a church, then how can France possibly be expected to stay a step ahead of the estimated 10,000 to 11,000 people with fiche S files in France? 
In July this year, rightwing French lawmakers called for “retention centres” for such radical Islamists after the brutal murder of a policeman and his partner at their home.
The centres were dubbed “French Guantanamos”, akin to those where individuals with dangerous mental health problems can be detained.
PM Manuel Valls ruled out the idea, saying it was “dangerous to confuse measures of surveillance with those of confinement”, but the concept won support from the rector of the Grand Mosque of Paris.
Can France do anything to stop the attacks?
With every attack, the challenge of preventing future atrocities seems to grow each time lives are lost.
After Charlie Hebdo, the stationing of soldiers outside religious sites seemed feasible given the fairly low numbers and the availability of 10,000 soldiers. No attacks have taken place on the Jewish community since the Kosher store hostage siege in Paris two days after the massacre at Charlie Hebdo.
But the attacks on the terraces and concert halls in November revealed that the terrorists were prepared to strike soft targets indiscriminately. Since jihadists have killed two police officers at their home near Paris, a man acting for Isis mowed down 84 revellers in Nice and two knifemen sneaked into a church and slit the throat of a defenceless 86-year-old priest.
It is simply impossible for France to station police and soldiers outside every bar, venue and church in the country. The number of soft targets are simply too many. Sadly several summer events were cancelled in Paris due to the lack of resources.
The Paris attacks did see an increase in the number of private security guards employed at officers, bars and cultural sites. There was also talk of arming those guards, which may be one option the government might wish to explore.
But in reality as long as jihadists are hellbent on bringing about death they will always find targets in France. 
It needs to find a way to stop them before they commit to violence. Given the numbers heading to the Middle East or having been radicalized, it seems it is losing the propaganda war with Isis.
Is France really heading for a kind of civil war?
Once again Tuesday's attack prompted some politicians to talk of not just war against Isis, but “civil war” with in France.

Hervé Morin, the president of the Normandy regional council, talked of a “risk of the fracturing of French society.”

“We have lived in peace since 1945 but that is changing,” said Morin. “We need to respond to this accumulation of violence, if not French society will explode.”

His words echoed recent statements to a parliamentary inquiry by the head of France's internal security agency Patrick Calvar who talked of a risk of civil war in France if right wing extremists start launching revenge attacks.

Numerous right wing authors have also evoked the prospect of France's communities turning on each other as the result of cracks opening up with each  terror attack.

Several experts on extremism have severely criticised the government for constantly talking of war and playing into the trap set by Isis, who would love nothing more than for French citizens of different faiths and cultures to turn on each other.

“Talk of war only reinforces the discourse of Isis because it presents them as the great global threat. It's a vicious circle,” leading expert Olivier Roy said.

Roy and others suggest the government would be benefit France far more if it talked more about the need for unity and resilience than for war. 

While there has a been some worrying isolated Islamophobic incidents since the Nice attack and no doubt there will be more after the killing of a priest, France does not seem willing to fall into Isis's trap, just yet.


US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks

US Vice President Kamala Harris and French Prime Minister Jean Castex laid wreaths at a Paris cafe and France's national football stadium Saturday six years since deadly terror attacks that left 130 people dead.

US vice president lays wreaths at site of 2015 Paris terror attacks
US Vice President Kamala Harris and her husband Doug Emhoff lay flowers after ceremonies at Le Carillon bar and Le Petit Cambodge restaurant, at which 130 people were killed during the 2015 Paris terror attacks. Photo: Sarahbeth Maney/POOL/AFP

The attacks by three separate teams of Islamic State group jihadists on the night of November 13, 2015 were the worst in France since World War II.

Gunmen mowed down 129 people in front of cafes and at a concert hall in the capital, while a bus driver was killed after suicide bombers blew themselves up at the gates of the stadium in its suburbs.

Harris, wrapping up a four-day trip to France, placed a bouquet of white flowers in front of a plaque honouring the victims outside a Paris cafe.

Castex attended a minute of silence at the Stade de France football stadium, along with Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo, before laying wreaths at the sites of the other attacks inside Paris.

In front of the Bataclan concert hall, survivors and relatives of the victims listened to someone read out the names of each of the 90 people killed during a concert there six years ago.

Public commemorations of the tragedy were called off last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Last year we weren’t allowed to come and we all found it really tough,” said Bruno Poncet, who made it out alive of the Bataclan.

But he said the start of a trial over the attacks in September meant that those attending the commemoration this year felt more united.

‘Overcome it all’

“We’ve really bonded thanks to the trial,” he said. “During previous commemorations, we’d spot each other from afar without really daring to speak to each other. We were really shy. But standing up in court has really changed everything.”

The marathon trial, the biggest in France’s modern legal history, is expected to last until May 2022.

Twenty defendants are facing sentences of up to life in prison, including the sole attacker who was not gunned down by police, Salah Abdeslam, a French-Moroccan national who was captured in Brussels. Six of the defendants are being tried in absentia.

Poncet said he felt it was crucial that he attend the hearings. “I can’t possibly not. It’s our lives that are being discussed in that room, and it’s important to come to support the others and to try to overcome it all.”

Survivors have taken to the witness stand to recount the horror of the attacks, but also to describe life afterwards.

Several said they had been struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder, grappling with survivor’s guilt, or even feeling alienated from the rest of society.

Saturday’s commemorations are to wrap up with a minute of silence at the Stade de France in the evening before the kick-off for a game between France and Kazakhstan.

It was during a football match between France and Germany that three suicide bombers blew themselves up in 2015.

Then-French president Francois Hollande was one of the 80,000 people in the crowd, before he was discreetly whisked away to avoid triggering mass panic.