Paris terror attacks: Now, surely, France will wake up to the militant threat

Authorities reacted in a largely tokenistic way following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. After the latest atrocities, they will have a great many questions to answer

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The Independent Online

The French authorities can’t say they weren’t warned. The world was horrified by the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices in January. Those assaults looked like a response to a specific set of blasphemous cartoons. The truth is that those offices had been firebombed before. They were a terror attack waiting to happen, and the staff were meant to be under police protection. Yet they were massively let down by Paris’s city council. It was a huge failure on behalf of the state, a tacit announcement that the French government was not taking the threat seriously, and we all know what the outcome was.

Internationally, there was a big show of solidarity, and I don’t decry that. It was sincerely meant, even if a little ritualistic. Less excusable was the domestic response of the French authorities. They reacted, but in a largely tokenistic way. 

Sure, the numbers of soldiers in public places such as the Eiffel Tower was increased. There was a great display of “doing the right thing” and combative talk of “no compromise” with terrorists. Great efforts were expended on going after low-level dissenters.But that is no substitute for hard work on the ground, for what security people call “humint”, that is human intelligence, and the events of Friday night will haunt them.

How world leaders reacted to French tragedy

The background of the Charlie Hebdo attackers was that of troubled, not particularly religious young men who had been under surveillance and spent time in prison. If they were on the radar, was it that much more difficult to stop them? Yet they seem to have easily acquired ammunition, and it only takes a handful of sociopathic young criminals-turned-terrorists to wreak havoc. One of those who killed himself on Friday night was known to the police. The pattern is repeated.

The staggering admission by a government spokeswoman Corinne Narassiguin – this was “obviously a failure of intelligence” – is not the sort of thing people want to hear at a moment of such grief and shock, but it means the authorities will have a great many questions to answer. 

Setting aside the French security apparatus, the whole country failed to comprehend the threat. Paris as a city has been far too liberal. There is skimping on basic security measures. There are hardly any CCTV cameras on the streets. Public buildings get nothing like the protection of those in London. People don’t report suspicious activity. Yet you can drive guns across borders (from as far as Russia if necessary), pay with cash and there you are. France has to wake up.

It pains me to say this. I was born in Paris to Algerian parents. This is my home. Now I fear the stigmatisation of France’s six million Muslims, who have no more to do with Friday night’s attacks than the crazed shooters in the United States do with Christianity. We started this year badly. We are ending it in the most macabre way imaginable. It is devastating.