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Paris attack: Isis atrocity leads to tighter border controls across European Union

The target was France, but the impact of the attack is being felt throughout the continent

Alistair Dawber
Saturday 14 November 2015 19:29 GMT
French Border control police check cars at the border between France and Switzerland in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, 14 November 2015
French Border control police check cars at the border between France and Switzerland in Meyrin near Geneva, Switzerland, 14 November 2015 (EPA)

The attacks on 13 November by so-called Islamic State unfolded in central Paris, but they were aimed at all of France – and their impact will be felt across the whole of Europe. François Hollande said that he was declaring war against the militants of IS, but in fact France’s effort against Islamic extremism has been under way for years.

A number of European Union countries also indicated that they would impose restrictions on the Schengen Agreement, which guarantees free movement across most of the bloc and which many on the right hold is a threat to the safety of the continent.

France has been at the vanguard of the battle against militant Islamism for several years. Despite sitting out the Iraq war in 2003, Paris has this year taken part in bombing raids on militant targets in Iraq and Syria, the latter still being a step too far for Britain.

Paris also joined air strikes against Gaddafi’s forces in Libya in 2011, and almost unilaterally took on al-Qaeda-linked groups in Mali two years later. Recent French foreign policy has been lauded in some quarters for its directness, but for IS and its sympathisers it has made France an obvious target.

The attacks were designed “to teach France, and all nations following its path, that they will remain at the top of [Isis’s] list of targets, and that the smell of death won’t leave their noses as long as they partake in their crusader campaign”, Isis said in a statement when taking responsibility for the attacks.

Mr Hollande has used foreign policy as a way of demonstrating France’s strength, but at home his ratings have plunged as domestic problems mounted. “Faced with war, the country must take appropriate action,” he said. “When terrorists are capable of committing such atrocities, they must be certain that they are facing a determined France, a united France.”

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Front National, has constantly referred to what she describes as the dangers of migration. She suspended campaigning for local elections in the south of France on 14 November. A security guard at Paris’s Gare du Nord station told The Independent on Sunday that the attacks would play into her hands, and that she would “only be strengthened by what has happened here”.

After Mr Hollande declared a state of emergency on late on 13 November and promised to close France’s borders, other EU countries reacted by tightening their own security measures. Belgium imposed controls on its borders, particularly those it shares with France. It was revealed that a car with Belgian number plates was being sought by French police. Meanwhile the Dutch PM, Mark Rutte, said his government would increase border controls.

Francois Hollande has promised to close France's borders (Reuters)

The hand of those pushing for more restrictions will no doubt be strengthened by the news that a Syrian passport was said to have been found on the body of one of the suicide attackers near the Stade de France.

In Germany, Markus Söder, the Bavarian government’s finance minister, said “the days of unchecked immigration and illegal entry can’t continue. Paris changes everything”.

Meanwhile the Bavarian premier, Horst Seehofer, said that there were “reasonable grounds” to suspect that there was a link between the Paris attacks and the arrest of a 51-year-old man on 5 November on the German-Austrian border. Police are understood to have uncovered firearms, explosives and hand grenades during the arrest.

Some communities in France have already said that they fear a backlash in the wake of the attacks. Nadir Kahia of the of the largely Muslim Banlieue Plus community association told the Associated Press that its members were shocked and felt a sense of solidarity, “but we know … some Muslims and poor neighbourhoods” would be subjected to a retribution.

France’s foreign minister, Laurent Fabius, travelled as planned to Vienna on 14 November for multilateral talks on the Syrian war.

“Without a doubt, what happened in Paris last night, cannot fail to affect the present atmosphere, and the negotiation process,” said Maria Zakharova, a spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry.

Mr Fabuis’s cabinet colleague, the interior minister Bernard Cazeneuve, banned public demonstrations until 19 November.

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