Wednesday, August 24, 2016

France confronts homegrown terrorism

What happened
Paris resembled a war zone this week as the
French government deployed 10,000 troops
and 5,000 police officers to potential terror
targets around the country, following three
days of terrorist attacks that left 17 people
dead and sparked global debate on free
speech and the growing threat of homegrown
Islamist extremism. The unprecedented show
of force, which saw heavily armed soldiers
guarding tourist attractions, transport centers,
synagogues, and mosques, came after
French security services killed three militants
in two separate sieges last week. First, police
stormed a printing warehouse in Dammartinen-
Goële, 20 miles north of Paris, shooting
dead Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, the two
brothers who murdered 12 people last week
in an attack on the Paris office of satirical
magazine Charlie Hebdo, which had repeatedly
run cartoons depicting the Prophet
Mohammed and mocking Islamic extremism.
Shortly afterward, officers stormed a kosher
supermarket in Porte de Vincennes, in eastern
Paris, where they killed Amédy Coulibaly,
who murdered four Jewish shoppers and a policewoman. Coulibaly
belonged to the same terror cell as the Kouachi brothers.
This week the Yemen-based al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula
claimed responsibility for planning and funding the Kouachis’
attack as “vengeance for the Messenger of God.” French police
are still hunting for six other members of the cell, including Coulibaly’s
wife, who is believed to have escaped to Syria. “The threat
is still present,” said French Prime Minister Manuel Valls, who
declared that France was “at war against jihadism and terrorism.”
Earlier in the week, French President François Hollande led more
than 40 world leaders and 1.5 million people on a unity march
through the streets of Paris. The rally, the largest on French soil
since the liberation of Paris in 1944, was attended by premiers including
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Israeli Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu, and British Prime Minister David Cameron;
the White House said President Obama did not attend for security
reasons, but admitted it should have sent the vice president or
secretary of state in his stead.
This week, Charlie Hebdo published its first issue since the attacks,
and its initial print run of 3 million copies—100 times its normal
readership—sold out within hours. The cover cartoon reprised the
Mohammed caricature that originally made the magazine a target
of Islamists, with the weeping prophet holding up a sign saying “Je
Suis Charlie”—the social media slogan being used to express solidarity
with the magazine—beneath the headline “All is forgiven.”
What the editorials said
“The biggest question raised by Paris is whether it presages a new
offensive by homegrown jihadists,” said The Wall Street Journal.
It’s “tempting” to think that France, whose Muslim population of
6 million is the largest in Europe, has a “unique jihadist problem.”
But while the U.S. has historically been better at assimilating
diverse ethnic groups, extremists can now radicalize anyone
with an internet connection. The fact
that President Obama didn’t think it
worth flying to France for Sunday’s
unity march highlights just how much he
underestimates “the nature and scope of
the Islamic threat.”
These bloodcurdling attacks highlight
“the difficulty of preventing assaults by
militants who blend in among fellow
citizens,” said The Washington Post.
The fact that all three militants were very
much known to France’s security services
raises some “reasonable questions”
about their procedures. “But hundreds
of French citizens have traveled to the
Middle East to support extremist groups;
in a democratic society, it is not easy to
continuously monitor all of them.”
The greatest danger now is that “more
Europeans will come to the conclusion
that all Muslim immigrants are carriers
of a great and mortal threat,” said The
New York Times. Anti-immigrant feelings
in Europe were already at a “dangerous level,” as evidenced by the
growing popularity of far-right parties such as France’s National
Front. As France licks its wounds, it’s crucial that Europe’s leaders
emphasize that “extremism is not inherent to the Muslim faith.”
What the columnists said
“The real danger in Europe is not to Muslims,” said Jonathan
Tobin in—it’s to “a small and increasingly
vulnerable Jewish population.” The fact that Coulibaly
targeted a kosher supermarket was no coincidence—it was because
the very existence of Jews angers Islamists just as much as offensive
cartoons do. With anti-Semitic sentiment on the rise, “an exodus
of French Jews is already underway,” said Jeff Jacoby in The
Boston Globe. While in 2012 there were only 1,900 immigrants to
Israel from France, an estimated 10,000 are expected to leave this
year—and probably many more after last week’s attacks.
These attacks have created a real challenge to Western liberal
values, said Marc Ambinder in If I write on my
Facebook page, “I think Charlie Hebdo ought to be punished for
its desecration of the Prophet,” should I be placed under intrusive
surveillance or even arrested and questioned? What is the proper
balance between freedom and safety? “This is a debate France will
now have.”
French officials admit they’re unsure how to proceed, said Scott
Bronstein and Arwa Damon in Jean-Charles Brisard,
head of the French Center for Analysis of Terrorism, says there are
an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 radicalized Muslims in the country,
some having trained in Yemen, Syria, or Iraq. To monitor their
movements, their internet activity, and their contacts, Brisard said,
France would need 25 agents for each suspected terrorist—or up
to 125,000 agents in total. As one counterterrorism official put it,
“there are far too many of them, and far too few of us. We cannot
possibly keep track of them all.”


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