“France is today, clearly, the country the most threatened” in Europe by Islamic State (IS), said Patrick Calvar, the head of the internal intelligence service, to a parliamentary commission in May.Thus reported The Economist last week. [Note: this post, slightly redacted now, was prepared a couple of days before the terrorist truck attack in Nice on Bastille Day (July 14).]
The underlying threat remains terrorism, and the alert level is still at its highest (“imminent attack”). Last month two police-force members were murdered in a terrorist attack in a suburb west of Paris.This excerpt is here for one reason: Ten to 15 years ago, French activists would pride themselves, with clear Schadenfreude towards the obtuse they-deserve(d)-it Americans, that, as Frenchmen, they had nothing to fear from Al Qaeda-like terrorist groups. Since Chirac and De Villepin had opposed the 2003 invasion of Saddam Hussein's Iraq, Islamic terrorists would clearly not take action against any members of this enlightened people. (This is easy to think when one ignores the fact that terrorist attacks usually ignore the nationality of their intended victims — wouldn't the Shoe Bomber have had French people among his victims had his December 2001 plane attempt been successful?)
… in France “the threat is permanently high.” Tight perimeter security at football stadiums, and at the walled open-air “fan zones”, has rendered such venues relatively secure—despite hooliganism at early matches. But fears continue over “soft” targets such as public transport, shopping streets and other crowded places. “We know that [IS] is planning new attacks,” said Mr Calvar.
The French response to this threat has been two-fold: a strengthened military and security presence backed by sweeping powers granted to the police under the state of emergency imposed last November, together with reinforced intelligence. Under Operation Sentinelle, 10,000 soldiers are on patrol across France, putting a strain on the armed forces. Soldiers have become a familiar sight on the Paris underground, and up and down the Champs-Elysées. At the same time, the government has boosted intelligence spending. The number of domestic agents will rise from 3,200 to 4,400 by 2018.
The call to armesA dozen attempted terrorist attacks have been thwarted in France in the past year. The shortcomings of counter-terrorism operations, however, were underlined on July 5th by a cross-party parliamentary inquiry into the attacks in Paris on November 13th. Sébastien Pietrasanta, the Socialist rapporteur, pointed to the “limited impact” of the state of emergency. It enabled the police to make some useful searches and arrests at first, but these no longer justify the emergency powers. The government may lift it after the Tour de France ends. Moreover, said Mr Pietrasanta, Operation Sentinelle was “unsustainable in the long run”, and soldiers were “worn out”.
In the wake of the Nice terrorist attack less than 12 hours ago, this post will probably be taken as insensitive and even outrageous. But the fast is, that the question remains: Is there any reason to suspect that any of these people have taken the time to put into doubt that self-serving "opinion" of the past 15 years?