Combating Terrorism In France Is Nearly Impossible

When one considers of the link between terrorism and Paris, it is impossible not to be reminded first of the massacres in November 2015 which claimed the lives of 130 people, wounding an additional 368. The attack was so overwhelming in its scope that it appears to have set a sort of precedent regarding mass reporting of terror in the City of Lights. Perhaps it is mere preoccupation by American news outlets, but a slew of attacks on police officers and French soldiers in the city have gone inexplicably underreported.

France serves as the most extreme case of homegrown terrorism in all of the European Union. Though the government has dedicated ample resources to combating radicalization preemptively and post-radicalization, a continuing flurry of attacks suggests that many methods have proven ineffective and that the threat far outpaces the proposed solutions.

French authorities are said to have a total watch list of 15,000 suspected radical Islamists, with approximately 4,000 designated as being a “high-risk” to commit a terror attack. The French newspaper Le Journal du Dimanche reported that an estimated 271 French nationals have returned after fighting overseas in war zones as part of a militant group, with more assumed dead. One estimate states that as many as 1,900 French nationals are likely to be involved in militant Islamist activities in Iraq and Syria.

French counter-terror forces face the near-impossible task of monitoring and suppressing plots targeting French citizens. They have stopped seven terror schemes this year, but have not been able to prevent several others, with police and military serving as not only defenders of the French citizenry, but prime targets for radicals. Most recently, a man potentially of North African descent accelerated for five meters before striking six French soldiers with a car in the Parisian suburb of Levallois-Perret. The suspect, who was arrested after fleeing the scene and engaging in a shootout with police, mirrored a tactic– the targeting of military and police– that has become common in French terror attacks.  

Three police officers monitoring France’s Franklin Roosevelt subway station near the Champs Elysee were shot in April, with one killed and two seriously injured. A man claiming to be an Algerian student and “soldier of the Caliphate” was shot after he screamed “this is for Syria” and attacked a police officer with a hammer near Notre Dame Cathedral. He was also found to be in possession of two kitchen knives, leading France’s interior minister to pronounce that no longer were complicated terror plots the only terrorist threat to French citizens’ safety.

In mid-March, Ziyed Ben Belgacem shouted “I am here to die in the name of Allah” forcefully snatched a female French soldier, training a gun on her before two fellow soldiers shot him dead. His father maintained that Belgacem was no terrorist, that alcohol and marijuana had caused the violent outburst.

A French soldier tasked with guarding the Louvre shot dead a man armed with a machete attempting to advance into the Louvre’s shopping center as he screamed “Allahu Akbar.” Terror attacks targeting police officers are not restricted to public venues, however.

Larossi Abballa had been convicted of recruiting for ISIS in Pakistan before he was released back into French society. On a Monday evening in June 2016, Abballa hid behind a gate near the home of French police commander Jean-Baptiste Salvaing in Magnanville, a suburb of Paris. When Salvaing arrived, Abballa confronted the officer and pursued him as he fled. Abballa tracked Salvaing down, stabbing him in the stomach repeatedly as he shouted “Allahu Akbar.” He was not done inflicting his merciless brand of violence, as Salvaing’s partner and three-year-old son remained inside the home.

Abballa proceeded to hold both hostages as police arrived on the scene. Over the course of a tense three-hour stalemate with police, Abballa confirmed his allegiance to ISIS while claiming he had deliberately targeted the police officer and his family. Police eventually stormed the house, where the 36-year-old Jessica Schneider was found dead with knife wounds to her neck. The son survived, but Abballa– who was also killed– had recorded 12 minutes of the ordeal and posted it to Facebook live, the boy seated behind him on a couch.

This horrific string of terror attacks has gone underreported, both individually and as a cumulative pattern. Keep in mind that attacks on French citizens, though not as rampant as attacks on military or police, have been equally callous. Jacques Hamel, an 85-year-old priest who refused to retire in his service to St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray Catholic church in Normandy, had his throat slit by two ISIS-affiliated men after he conducted Mass on a Tuesday morning in July 2016.

These collective atrocities illustrate the persistent, uphill battle French military and police face in combating terrorism. Like so many issues, the increasing frequency of such attacks have rendered them commonplace, and therefore not newsworthy by many outlets’ standards. In the shadows of the global community’s collective consciousness, the terror threat facing France continues to evolve, adding more facets to an already unstoppable flow of radicalization.

According to Paris prosecutor Francois Molins, hundreds of radicalized females have come to represent the latest iteration of the face on terrorism. Centuries of idealistic thought bordering on naiveté, irresponsibly loose views on immigration, and the failure to proactively combat terror has left France as the epicenter of terror attacks in the EU. Their strict gun laws leave police and military forces overstretched as the only true opposition to gun and knife wielding terrorists, who also use vehicles as a means to incur mass casualties. There is no reason to believe that the threat will cease. Terror in France, and more specifically Paris, is likely only to gain in intensity and scope.

However, the increasing frequency of terror in France and elsewhere is not reason to minimize or avoid reporting on its proliferation. In fact, the opposite is true. De-stigmatizing terror in Western nations such as France runs the risk of fostering the same global ambivalence shown toward the numerous conflicts which plague regions such as Africa and the Middle East.

Once terror in the West becomes de-stigmatized, consider the culture war lost. 

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