After terror attack, France still has to reckon with radicalisation problem

The issue of how to counter radicalisation remains a major challenge for France.
Sunday 01/04/2018
French President Emmanuel Macron (2ndR) stands by the coffin of Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, on March 28.(AFP)
Paying homage. French President Emmanuel Macron (2ndR) stands by the coffin of Lieutenant-Colonel Arnaud Beltrame at the Hotel des Invalides in Paris, on March 28.(AFP)

LONDON - Following another radical Islamist terror attack in France, which resulted in the death of four people, including policeman Arnaud Beltrame, the issue of how to counter radicalisation remains a major challenge for the most secular-inclined European country.

The attack was carried out by Radouane Lakdim, a 26-year-old Moroccan-born French national who was known to the authorities for his record as a petty criminal who later espoused radical Islamist views. The attack seemed, however, more in line with the low-tech opportunistic attacks that have been seen in the United Kingdom recently, compared with more organised and directed attacks such as the November 2015 Paris attacks in which 130 people died.

Lakdim initially hijacked a car in the small southern French town of Carcassonne on March 23, killing one passenger, before using the vehicle to target policemen who were jogging in the area. He drove to a supermarket in nearby Trebes and held about 50 people hostage. Lakdim was killed by police after he started shooting hostages.

Lakdim killed four people, including Beltrame, who had exchanged himself for a hostage, and injured 16 others while claiming affiliation with the Islamic State (ISIS).

The attack was just more than a month after France unveiled a new plan to tackle radicalisation. The plan included 60 measures focusing on prevention and specifically seeking to note danger signs before attacks.

“We cannot ignore this slow-burn process… Islamist radicalisation is a threat to our society, not just when it leads to violence,” said French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

The assault by Lakdim reopened the debate about the efficiency of France’s anti-terrorism measures as well as its anti-radicalisation efforts. Experts wondered if the new counter-radicalisation plan, the third in less than four years, is any better than previous ones in considering all factors involved in the problem.

The new plan specifically looks to counter radicalisation among prisoners, as well as to impose stronger regulations on private religious schools.

Maghreb countries, including Morocco, exchange anti-terrorism intelligence with France. Moroccan authorities have complained about not having been informed by French authorities about Lakdim being on a security watchlist.

It is not believed that Lakdim had any direct ties to ISIS or that ISIS directed his attack. “The modus operandi of how Lakdim carried out this attack is similar to what they [ISIS] preach in their propaganda,” Nikita Malik, director of the Centre for Response and Radicalisation and Terrorism, told France 24, “but there is a big difference between being trained in the group and being influenced by the group and being essentially a self-starter.”

Local media reported that there are about 20,000 people on French watch lists, including 11,000 who, like Lakdim, are under sporadic surveillance.

French Interior Minister Gerard Collomb maintained that, although Lakdim had been under surveillance by authorities, there was nothing they could have done to predict the attack.

“Ultimately no one thought that there would be a hasty attack,” Collomb told local media, denying that the French-Moroccan had any ties to organised jihadists. “It was more of a petty criminal who at a certain moment decided to act,” he said on France Inter radio.

France, like many European countries, is facing a major problem regarding radicalisation. However, even France‘s extensive watch list represents just the “tip of the iceberg,” Jean-Charles Brisard, president of the Centre for Terrorism Analysis, acknowledged.

“Since 2014, 60% of the attacks in France were carried out by people who weren’t in the file. The files are good but even they don’t show the full scale of home-grown threats,” he told France 24.

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