Massacre in Nice is shape of terror to come

Sunday 17/07/2016
France has become primary European target for ISIS

BEIRUT - The massacre in the French Riviera city of Nice, in which a French-Tunisian petty criminal drove a 19- ton truck into crowds of people watching a Bastille Day fire­works display, killing more than 80, demonstrates the immense difficul­ties that intelligence services face in countering the deadly reach of the Islamic State (ISIS).

In a statement released by its Amaq news service, ISIS said “sol­diers” were responsible for the car­nage on Nice’s palm-fringed Medi­terranean promenade “in response to calls to target nations of coalition states that are fighting” the group. France has become a primary Eu­ropean target for ISIS because it has been a staunch partner in the US-led coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

The day before the attack in Nice, French President François Hollande dispatched France’s aircraft carrier — the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle — to the eastern Mediterra­nean to bolster alliance air strikes against ISIS. The French also have 1,200 troops in the Sahel region fighting jihadists and special forces in Syria and Libya.

“I take it the next 12 months are going to be as bloody if not more so than the past year because ISIS, as it loses in Syria and Iraq… is trying to divert attention from its losses,” Fawaz Gerges of the London School of Economics and author of ISIS: A History told National Public Radio (NPR).

The head of the UN Counter- Terrorism Committee, Jean-Paul Laborde warned on July 5th that there are almost 30,000 foreign ex­tremists, many from Western Eu­rope, fighting with ISIS and al-Qae­da in Syria and Iraq and who pose a long-term terrorist threat when they return home.

And here France, with Europe’s largest Muslim minority, is acutely vulnerable. It has provided more volunteers for ISIS than any other European state and, with its open EU borders, can do little to prevent ISIS infiltration amid what Western intelligence agencies say is a new phase in the terror group’s offen­sive. Belgium, where ISIS networks are based, is also a prime target.

The slaughter on Nice’s Prom­enade des Anglais was the third major terrorist attack in France in about 18 months. On January 7th, 2015, jihadist gunmen killed 17 people in a series of attacks that began in Paris with the murder of staff members of the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine, which had lam­pooned Islam.

On November 13th, 2015, 130 peo­ple were killed in a series of coordi­nated bombings and gun attacks af­ter which Hollande imposed a state of emergency that has now been extended.

Both attacks involved ISIS or al- Qaeda activists. The carnage dra­matically revealed multiple gaps in France’s intelligence apparatus — some of the Brussels-based Novem­ber attackers were linked to those behind the January bloodbath — and brought demands for the establish­ment of a US-style counterterrorism agency that would put France’s six — often competing — separate intel­ligence agencies under one roof.

The tempo of ISIS attacks is accel­erating with the group operating on a score of fronts — from the United States to Bangladesh — simultane­ously to counter its steady loss of territory in the Islamic caliphate it proclaimed in parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014 to unprecedented US-led military pressure. That is expected to intensify in the months ahead.

With attacks such as the massacre in Nice, ISIS hopes to drive Western countries into punitive crackdowns on their Muslim populations, large­ly neglected and marginalised, that will drive them into ISIS’s arms.

The recent attacks in Western Eu­rope have provided major boosts for far-right parties and the Nice mas­sacre is only going to reinforce this political shift.

The July 14th slaughter under­lined how ISIS is constantly adapt­ing its methods to counter the ever-growing security net that cov­ers Western Europe and taking au­thorities by surprise in an escalating campaign of terror.

The use of a delivery truck as a killing machine was likely the last thing French authorities expected, even though Palestinians have used vehicles to ram Israelis and ISIS has recommended such attacks.

In September 2014, Abu Moham­mad al-Adnani, ISIS’s chief spokes­man, called on sympathisers to at­tack the “crusaders” with anything that came to hand and even singled out “the spiteful and filthy French”.

Adnani’s blood-curdling speech spelled out how to slaughter ISIS’s enemies, including the use of vehi­cles — another demonstration of the constantly changing terrorist threat.

“If you are not able to find a bomb or a bullet, then smash his head with a rock or slaughter him with a knife or run him over with your car or throw him down from a high place or choke him or destroy his crops,” Adnani said. “If you are un­able to do so, then spit in his face.”