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16
Dec
2018

France Is in a Deep Social Crisis and Is Powerless against Terror


Just before Christmas, the whole of France is pervaded by an atmosphere of sadness and depression that has not been seen in this European country for many years. The economic and social situation is terrible, and deteriorating every day. “Yellow vest” protests are posing a challenge to the government with angry demonstrations and acts of vandalism that were not even experienced during the student riots of May 1968. In those days, the protest was ideological and an expression of youth rebellion against the establishment. Today, national symbols are being shattered in every direction while the crowd riots and vents its anger against the wealthy and the banks, both of which symbolize the capitalism that President Macron represents.

“Yellow vest” demonstrations in Belfort, France

“Yellow vest” demonstrations in Belfort, France, December 1, 2018 (Thomas Bresson)

President Emmanuel Macron was elected to the presidency in May 2017 amid much fanfare, though he was the default choice when extreme right-wing leader Marine Le Pen stood against him in a second round of elections.

All of Macron’s promises of far-reaching changes and social and economic reforms have failed. Even though he has tried to soften his position and sweeten the bitter pill by annulling various decrees, a decisive majority of French citizens continue to be pessimistic and accuse him of being detached from reality. The ordinary man in the street does not have any faith in him and is afraid that the deep crisis will make daily life even more difficult, which would also weaken France’s image and position in Europe and the international arena.

In this depressing atmosphere, and in light of the social crisis, the French government is also dealing with an unprecedented and ongoing wave of Islamic terror that has been sweeping through its territory for several years.

Muslim Involvement?

In this regard, it is worth noting Egyptian media claims that the recent demonstrations in France are similar to those that broke out in Egypt and led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2011. According to some Egyptian media claims, the Muslim Brotherhood organization is also involved in the “Yellow vest” riots. While these accusations have been denied by the Islamist organization, there may be a connection between the extreme Left in France and Arab “charitable organizations” that identify with the Muslim Brotherhood.

The terror attack on the Christmas market in Strasbourg on December 11, 2018, further illustrates the powerlessness of the authorities in spite of the various measures taken.

With this terror attack, as with others, it appears that the French authorities are continuing to conceal relevant information from the public. They insist on using specific terminology and various French language expressions to refrain from openly defining the incident as a terror attack and the perpetrator as a terrorist. Also, after a terrorist incident, authorities refuse to state clearly that all of these attacks were perpetrated by Muslim terrorists. The French police also do not act effectively against Islamic radicalization in the mosques and prisons. Today in France there are more than 20,000 “Islamist hotheads” who refuse to calm down and integrate into society. In the past and also today, the authorities say, “The suspect was known to the police for criminal activity, drugs, or robbery, but no signs of religious extremism were found while he was being monitored. We could not have said that he was an extremist who would have carried out an attack, and it seems he acted alone.”

This has been the erroneous, repeated approach to every terror attack since the violent wave began.

The terrorist responsible for the attack in Strasbourg, like most of the other terrorists, was a young Muslim male born in France to a family that emigrated from the Maghreb (North Africa). France, a secular country careful to separate between church and state, persistently refrains from connecting those who carry out terror attacks with their origins or their religion. Nothing of this nature is written in identity cards, and it is not possible to find out from any population registry the number of Muslims or Jews living in the country. Everyone relies upon the estimates of their community institutions only.

The Strasbourg Christmas market, target of the latest attack. (Claude Truong-Ngoc / Wikimedia Commons – cc-by-sa-4.0)

With regard to the December 11, 2018, terror attack in Strasbourg, the city is the capital of the province of Alsace and borders Germany, where there is a large Muslim population. Some of its radical and extremist elements have tried in the past to attack the festive Christmas market, which attracts more than 10 million visitors per year. The Islamists’ objectives are varied: to launch a terror attack on a religious target, which is a humiliating and threatening strike against a symbol of Christianity; to murder innocent visitors to a busy high profile market; and to hit Strasbourg specifically because it is a European symbol, a city closely linked with Germany that serves as the seat of the European Parliament.

Already in December 2000, exactly 18 years ago, a terrorist cell based in Frankfurt and connected to the Al Qaeda network in Germany, was apprehended in Strasbourg. The leader of that cell was one of Bin Laden’s deputies in Europe, Mohammed Bensakhria, who plotted a spectacular attack to take place before Christmas. He also planned attacks on the Eiffel Tower and Christmas markets in Strasbourg and Paris. The members of that cell were Salafists of Algerian origin. The cell was apprehended and disbanded through a joint operation between the security services of France and Germany. The terror cell was intercepted just a few days before Christmas. Found at the home of the terrorists were explosive charges placed inside pressure cookers, grenades, weapons, and video cassettes. The cell photographed many visitors to the Christmas market and posted threatening slogans, such as, “We will send all kuffars (heretics) to Hell because they are the enemies of Allah.”

According to sources in the French security services, another massive terror attack was planned at the magnificent local cathedral in accordance with explicit instructions from the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan, where the cell was trained before returning to France. It should be remembered that another objective of these same terrorists was an attack on the U.S. embassy in Paris immediately after the Twin Towers attack in New York on September 11, 2001.

The recent terror attack in Strasbourg is particularly concerning because the terrorist, Chérif Chekatt, aged 29, was already known to the police. He spent eight years in jail before being released. On the same day as the terror attack took place, a search was carried out at his home, where weapons and grenades were found. Furthermore, the terrorist managed to get into the Christmas market, in an area surrounded by police and security guards that had been declared completely sterile. The terrorist also managed to fight off the police who pursued him and got away in a taxi. Only six hours after the shooting, France’s new interior minister, Christophe Castaner, announced a peak level of high alert. This single terrorist managed to shut down an entire city, forcing a population of over 275,000 people to remain in their homes, and forced a curfew on all members of the European Parliament until dawn.

Wanted poster for Strasbourg terrorist

Wanted poster for Strasbourg terrorist

There is no doubt that there was a string of serious mishaps here, requiring the authorities to thoroughly investigate its procedures.

It should be noted that between 2015 and 2017, France was under a state of emergency for 719 days. A drastic law limiting freedom of movement and increasing the monitoring of terror suspects was passed in Parliament in November 2017. Today, in December 2018, France is again under curfew and regular movement has ceased.

To understand this phenomenon and why France has become the focus for acts of Islamic terror, it is essential to recall the series of major terror attacks that have been perpetrated there since 2012:

  • In March 2012, Mohammed Merah, a French terrorist of Algerian origin, murdered seven people in the city of Toulouse, including the father of a Jewish family and his three children, at the entrance to the Otzar HaTorah School. The terrorist was already known to the secret services.
  • On January 7, 2015, jihadists with French nationality massacred the staff of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, as well as Jews who had gone to buy challahs for Shabbat at a kosher supermarket. The following day, a mass solidarity demonstration took place, attended by various government leaders, including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
  • On February 3, 2015, three French soldiers guarding a Jewish community center were attacked with a kitchen knife.
  • On April 19, 2015, an attempt to bomb a church in the city of Villejuif was foiled. The terrorist, of Algerian origin, was already known to the security services.
  • On June 26, 2015, the manager of a factory was decapitated by a Muslim terrorist. At the last minute, an attempt by the same terrorist to blow up a car packed with gas balloons was thwarted.
  • On August 23, 2015, a Muslim attacked an express train traveling from Brussels to Paris. Thanks to the quick thinking of several U.S. soldiers who were on leave, the terrorist was neutralized.
  • On November 13, 2015, there was a simultaneous attack on restaurants, the Stade de France stadium, and the Bataclan Theater. A state of emergency was declared over all French territory as a result. A total of 130 people were killed, and 350 were injured in the attacks.
  • On January 7, 2016, an attack on police headquarters in Paris was thwarted. The terrorist held a butcher’s knife and shouted, “Allahu Akhbar!” at police officers.
  • On June 13, 2016, a married couple who were both police officers were murdered in their own home. The wife was decapitated by a Muslim terrorist. Police officers held street demonstrations, and a desperate call for more resources and security was made.
  • On July 14, 2016, a massacre was perpetrated in Nice by a truck driver who was previously known to the police as a dangerous, serial criminal. He had spent time in prison but had been released. After that, he became brainwashed by Muslim preachers. In the terrible vehicular massacre, 86 people were killed, including ten children, and 300 were injured, of whom 50 were left fighting for their lives in the hospital. ISIS took responsibility for the massacre. The terrorist, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhle, was of Tunisian origin.
  • In this case, like the others, the question must be asked why appropriate and drastic steps were not taken to prevent further terror attacks. Why did France still not internalize the fact that it needs to fight against extremist terror until it is completely eradicated? One may also wonder why this man was allowed to drive a 19-ton truck into the heart of the French Riviera on Bastille Day, which is a national holiday. Why did the police believe the driver when he told them he was bringing “ice cream to revelers?” Why, indeed, did that cursed truck not undergo a fundamental inspection? And if this had been a booby-trapped truck, this disaster could have been many times worse.

Muslim Residents in France

There is no doubt that the presence of between 8 to 10 million Muslims in France is worrying French decision-makers. It has a very strong effect on the political level and also the outlook of intelligence. It should be noted that, as opposed to Germany, where most Muslims are Turkish, or England, where most of them originate from India and Pakistan, in France the decisive majority of Muslims come from North Africa – Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria.

In the 1970s and 1980s, France was extremely generous to North African immigrants, reuniting their families, but today it receives deep ingratitude in return. As long as Muslims in France do not internalize the fact that they need to integrate to become regular citizens, Islamic religious incitement will continue to make waves, leading to further terror attacks.

The existing situation is deteriorating on the social and economic fronts, and the increasing number of terror attacks is affecting the morale of the Jewish community. There is no doubt that while the situation continues to deteriorate and the crisis deepens, French Jewry, which comprises the largest Jewish community in western Europe, will continue to be very worried about becoming victims of mass rage, terror attacks, and anti-Semitic acts.

At the same time, the French government is obliged to take all essential measures immediately to prevent attacks on the community, not only by stationing police officers outside institutions, but also with preventative action against lawbreakers, incitement, and boycotts. It must prevent clashes between Jews and Arabs based on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and in particular avoid decisions that indirectly support the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the roundabout support and encouragement of terror acts perpetrated by Hamas and other Islamist organizations.

About Amb. Freddy Eytan

Amb. Freddy Eytan, a former Foreign Ministry senior advisor who served in Israel’s embassies in Paris and Brussels, was Israel’s first Ambassador to the Islamic Republic of Mauritania. He was also the spokesman of the Israeli delegation in the peace process with the Palestinians. Since 2007, he heads the Israel-Europe Project at the Jerusalem Center, which focuses on analyzing Israeli relations with the countries of Europe and seeks to develop ties and avenues of bilateral cooperation. He is also the director of Le Cape, the Jerusalem Center website in French. Amb. Eytan has written 20 books about the Israeli-Arab conflict and the policy of France in the Middle East, including La Poudriere (The Powder Keg) and Le double jeu (the Double Game). He has also published biographies of Shimon Peres, Ariel Sharon, Benjamin Netanyahu, and a book, The 18 Who Built Israel.
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