From Char­lie Hebdo to Bastille Day: France reels after new deadly at­tack

The Star (St. Lucia) - - INTERNATIONAL -

France is again reel­ing after an­other night of car­nage left dozens of peo­ple dead and scores in­jured.

It is too early to spec­u­late on the mo­ti­va­tion or pos­si­ble af­fil­i­a­tion of the at­tacker who drove a truck into a crowd in Nice, in the south of the coun­try. But it is the lat­est in a se­ries of bloody at­tacks since the mur­der in the Char­lie Hebdo of­fices in Jan­uary 2015.

Over 80 peo­ple are re­ported to have been killed in Nice and their names – once they are known – will be added to the scores who lost their lives in the Paris at­tacks in Novem­ber last year, those killed at Char­lie Hebdo’s of­fices, those who died in a sub­se­quent at­tack on a Jewish su­per­mar­ket. Yet more planned strikes have been foiled in that time, French of­fi­cials have said. After Novem­ber’s Paris at­tacks, the French gov­ern­ment put in place a state of emer­gency, which re­stricts civil lib­er­ties. It al­lows po­lice to con­duct searches with­out a war­rant and place peo­ple un­der house ar­rest out­side the nor­mal le­gal process.

A French par­lia­men­tary in­ves­ti­ga­tion into last year’s ter­ror­ist at­tacks on Paris has iden­ti­fied mul­ti­ple fail­ings by France’s in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

The par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion was set up to as­sess the fail­ure to pre­vent a se­ries of at­tacks that killed a to­tal of 147 peo­ple in 2015 – from Jan­uary’s gun at­tacks on the Char­lie Hebdo of­fices and a kosher gro­cery store to the co­or­di­nated gun and bomb at­tacks on 13 Novem­ber out­side the na­tional sports sta­dium, at bars and restau­rants and at a rock gig at the Bat­a­clan con­cert hall.

The com­mis­sion high­lighted a “global fail­ure” of French in­tel­li­gence and rec­om­mended a to­tal over­haul of the in­tel­li­gence ser­vices and the cre­ation of a sin­gle, US-style na­tional counter-ter­ror­ism agency.

“Our coun­try was not ready; now we must get ready,” said Ge­orges Fenech, head of the com­mis­sion.

France has six in­tel­li­gence units an­swer­ing var­i­ously to the in­te­rior, de­fence and econ­omy min­istries.

Where, dur­ing the Paris at­tacks, the killers chose the night that France’s na­tional foot­ball team was play­ing, in Nice, the at­tack took place on the coun­try’s na­tional day. Bastille Day is one of the most im­por­tant days in the cal­en­dar to many French peo­ple. While it marks nei­ther the start, nor the end, of the French Rev­o­lu­tion – as peo­ple some­times be­lieve – it rep­re­sents a sig­nif­i­cant blow by French peo­ple to a tyran­ni­cal regime and, as such, the spirit of the French Repub­lic it­self. Many streets are usu­ally closed off to traf­fic – if they are not, rev­ellers of­ten just take them over. Fam­i­lies and friends come to­gether and fire­works dis­plays and other cel­e­bra­tions are stan­dard.

It was at one of these that the at­tack­ers struck. In do­ing so, it is dif­fi­cult to con­clude that their as­sault was not in­tended to be di­rected at the heart of France’s na­tional iden­tity.

Be­sides those atroc­i­ties, France also suf­fered in Au­gust 2015 when a gun­man opened fire on a high-speed train that was car­ry­ing more than 500 peo­ple, be­fore he was over­pow­ered by three Amer­i­cans – two of whom were sol­diers – and a Bri­tish pas­sen­ger. In that sense, at least, the at­tack in Nice echoes the oth­ers that have taken place in two of the worst years France has ex­pe­ri­enced since the Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion. In Paris, be­sides a na­tional sta­dium full of French foot­ball fans, the tar­gets were places where peo­ple would come to­gether to so­cialise. In the Char­lie Hebdo shoot­ings, it was the free speech on which France – like other coun­tries – prides it­self that the mil­i­tants were at­tack­ing.

The gun­man had sev­eral weapons in his lug­gage, in­clud­ing a Kalash­nikov, an au­to­matic pis­tol and ra­zor blades.

In June this year a man with a pre­vi­ous ter­ror­ism con­vic­tion stabbed a po­lice com­man­der and his wife to death at their home out­side Paris and streamed the at­tack on Face­book.

In re­sponse to pre­vi­ous ma­jor at­tacks, French peo­ple came to­gether. They met at the Place de la République – the large square in east­ern Paris that holds huge sym­bolic mean­ing for many French peo­ple. They also came to­gether in the im­me­di­ate af­ter­math – of­fer­ing “Portes Ou­vertes” (open doors) to those seek­ing shel­ter. They did so again on Thurs­day night and it re­mains to be seen if and where they will gather to mark the pass­ing of yet an­other night of vi­o­lence.

Se­cu­rity forces across Europe and the US were also for­mu­lat­ing a re­sponse. Barack Obama con­demned what he said “ap­peared to be a hor­rific ter­ror­ist in­ci­dent” and of­fered any as­sis­tance that may be needed to in­ves­ti­gate it.

The UK For­eign Of­fice called on all Bri­tons in France to ex­er­cise cau­tion and fol­low the in­struc­tions of lo­cal law en­force­ment of­fi­cials. Ini­tial de­tails sug­gested a tac­tic which ji­hadi pro­pa­ganda has sug­gested for sev­eral years, with a ve­hi­cle plough­ing into a crowd. In­spire mag­a­zine, af­fil­i­ated with al-Qaida, urged the tac­tic sev­eral years ago.

French po­lice forces and foren­sic of­fi­cers stand next to a truck that ran into a crowd cel­e­brat­ing Bastille Day. Photo by Eric Gail­lard

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