Will France Finally Wake-up to the Threat of ISIL?

by omouggos

President of France Francois Hollande now must lead his nation against ISIL (image from http://www.independent.co.uk).

By now most are well aware of the deadly attacks in Paris involving from 8 to 20 ISIL operatives, some of which may have entered Europe disguised as Syrian refugees, simultaneously striking six targets throughout Paris killing at least 132 people. In the aftermath of these attacks France and Europe are reeling.

Many are shocked and alarmed that such a deadly and sophisticated operation could be successfully conducted under the nose of French intelligence and security agencies. But what many do not realize is that a month before the Paris attacks French intelligence were aware of an imminent terrorist threat to Paris. In addition the day before the attacks Iraqi intelligence warned France and other coalition countries that ISIL’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi had given an order for attacks to be launched within countries fighting against ISIL (i.e. France). There are also claims by Turkish officials that as early as December 2014 they had shared information with French officials about Omar Ismail Mostefai, one of the Paris attackers. With all this in mind it cannot be said that French authorities were caught by surprised by the events of November 13.

But the inability of French authorities to prevent the Paris attacks is even more egregious when one considers that France has already been attacked by jihadis. On January 7, the Kouachi brothers executed 11 staff members of the Charlie Hebdo periodical. Two days later their associate Amedy Coulibaly took hostages at a Parisian Jewish supermarket killing 4, all Jewish, before he was killed by police. These attacks were in retribution for Charlie Hebdo publishing cartoon drawings of the Prophet Muhammed. Then on August 21 a massacre was averted on board a high speed train when brave and quick acting passengers, including three American tourists, subdued a rifle wielding Moroccan named Ayoub El Khazzani before he could kill anyone.

One would think that such prior incidences of terrorism, one of which was a direct attack against France’s vaunted freedom of expression, would be sufficient cause for French authorities to step up their counter terrorism efforts. But they did not heed these obvious warnings.

While France is apart of the coalition against ISIL, their efforts against the latter did not amount to much. Little has been done to stem or control the accelerating flow of migrants into the country, which undoubtedly includes returning jihadis. It should be noted that it has been estimated that to track these returning fighters would require 120,000 to 500,000 intelligence agents throughout Europe, a number which illustrates the difficulties that French and European intelligence have in protecting their nations. There also seems to be neither resolve nor sensible ideas to integrate the aloof and dissatisfied Muslim population of France, which is ripe for radicalization (as of 2010 around 7.5% of France’s population was Muslim).

France and the rest of Europe have shown neither the will nor the wherewithal to deal with these problems, but it appears that the Paris attacks may be the catalyst that accelerates change on this front. Maybe it was brazenness of the attacks, or the sheer number of deaths or the ruthlessness in which people were killed, being methodically and coldly gunned down and the wounded slashed with knives, or that the President of France Francois Hollande was also a direct target of the terrorists. For whatever reason the Paris attacks have been a slap to the face of France and the rest of Europe.

In his first speech after the attacks, Hollande described them as “a horror” and laid out his initial response. A state of emergency was declared, effectively instituting martial law, the borders were closed to “ensure that no one enters to commit any crimes and that those who have committed the crimes that we have unfortunately seen can also be arrested if they should leave the territory,” and all available forces, including the military were mobilized.

Then in front of the Bataclan theater, just hours after police stormed it bringing an end to the slaughter, the President resolutely stated, “I want to say we are going to lead a war which will be pitiless. Because when terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France.

On Saturday Hollande gave a televised address to the nation, in which he characterized the attacks as “an act of war committed by Daesh [ISIL]” and he vowed that “France will not show any pity against the barbaric acts by ISIL. All measures to protect our compatriots and our territory are being taken within the framework of the state of emergency.

Generally speaking I am not a fan of the socialist Hollande, and I wonder why “all measures to protect our compatriots and our territory” were not considered nor enacted earlier, but in his immediate response to the Paris attacks he has at least displayed some common sense and resolve, possibly due to the fact that he himself was a target of ISIL. Of course with politicians, especially those of the left, they frequently say one thing and then do something quite different.

Only time will tell whether Hollande will be committed to combating ISIL. However in the mean time French warplanes, based in Jordan, the UAE and on the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean, have begun bombing ISIL’s capital of Raqqa in Syria. Most interesting is that France appears to be forming an alliance of sorts with Russia against ISIL.

Closer to home numerous police raids were conducted across France nabbing at least 23 people and a rocket launcher. The most recent raid against an active “commando” cell in Saint-Denis, became a protracted and intense gun fight, in which five were arrested and three killed, including a woman who killed herself by detonating an explosive vest and Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the master mind of the November 13 attacks.

Hollande has vowed to hire 8,500 new law inforcement and legal people, and to not make any job cuts in the military until 2019. He also wants to prolong the state of emergency from the current 12 days to 3 months. France’s interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve has reportedly proposed the dissolution of “mosques where hate is preached.

While some may welcome these developments in France, others may be more skeptical. Firstly, Syrian activists in Raqqa have reported that initial French airstrikes have targeted facilities that ISIL have abandoned, thereby having minimal degradative effect on ISIL. Secondly, while France is beginning to bomb ISIL targets in Syria, according to DEBKAfile they still have no desire to send in ground forces, meaning that their fight against ISIL amounts to “more of the same” tactics, which have to date not been very effective against ISIL.

Thirdly, France has many economic problems–including high levels of debt, low rates of growth and high youth unemployment–which means that the costs associated with hiring more law enforcement and legal personnel, in addition to that of bombing ISIL in Syria will only add to France’s fiscal problems, particularly its over indebtedness. Finally, those skeptical of state power may be alarmed that the state of emergency, which effectively amounts to martial law, will be increased to 3 months. There is a fear that such harsh measures could easily be misused against ordinary and law abiding French citizens. And that such temporary emergency powers, could very easily transform into a permanent diminishment of civil liberties. As such there are reasons to be skeptical and critical of France’s response to the terrorist attacks.

The future course of events in France appears uncertain but it does seem that Hollande has been stirred into action, at least to a certain degree, by ISIL’s attack on Paris. Only time will tell whether his resolve will persist or be adequate for the task at hand. But Hollande is not the only important person in France, there is also the leader of the far-right National Front political party, Marine Le Pen, who may end up playing a pivotal role in France’s near term future.

Le Pen is a staunch French nationalist who’s policies are anti-immigrant and anti-Islam, which have led to her frequently being vilified as xenophobic and islamophobic by the Left. Her immediate response on twitter to the attacks was, “For the sixth time in 2015, Islamic terrorism has hit our country. French people are crying for the dead, and I cry with them. France has become vulnerable and has undergone a collapse of its defense capabilities. It is necessary to rearm.

Then in front of reporters Le Pen elaborated further. “Islamist fundamentalism must be annihilated, France must ban Islamist organizations, close radical mosques and expel foreigners who preach hatred in our country as well as illegal migrants who have nothing to do here.” She added, “it is absolutely necessary that France regains control of its borders.” Whether one agrees with Le Pen’s statements, there is no doubt that she does not mince words and that she has the drive and the mentality to take action to protect France from ISIL.

With the recent events in Paris, it is likely that Le Pen’s popularity will increase and it is possible, depending on the course of events, that she could be elected as President in France, which will mark a dramatic change in European politics (currently the National Front is the third largest party in France). Even if Le Pen does not eventually take power in France, her popularity coupled to her staunch political positions, may force Hollande into adopting a harder line against ISIL and the migrant crisis, than he might otherwise do. Undoubtedly, the degree to which Le Pen’s popularity increases will be the most important development to follow in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, along with whether ISIL will launch more attacks.

It could be that the blood that has stained the streets of Paris and the floors of the Bataclan, may have stirred the French from their shocking apathy towards the threat of ISIL and Islamism. Just maybe the French may now understand the danger that the Islamists pose and as a result they may take concrete action against them. Whether Hollande has the fortitude to do this is uncertain. We should remember that ISIL has referred to Hollande as the “imbecile of France.” But his initial response to the situation has been encouraging, although not without its problems.

If Hollande is not the man to lead France against the Islamists then Le Pen may very well be the woman to do so. But for Le Pen to lead her country against ISIL and Islamism, she first must be elected. If she is not elected, and if Hollande falters, then France’s battle against Islamism may not end well. France at this moment needs someone with the spirit of Charles Martel, someone who will fight for France and not be afraid of being vilified by the Left. But outside of Le Pen who else in France has this spirit?

O Mouggos

If interested here are some other posts on the Paris attacks:
Jihadis Attack Paris, Salon is Concerned with Conservatives
Possibility Some of the Paris Attackers were Migrants
Will France Finally Wake-up to the Threat of ISIL?