Once again, after a hiatus of eight months, France has been struck by suspected Islamic terrorists. Time after time, France bears the brunt of terrorism with more people leaving to join the ISIS and other jihadi ranks in Iraq and Syria. According to data released by The International Centre of Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (based on data from second half of 2014) as published in the Wall Street Journal, nearly 1200 people had joined jihadist ranks from France alone in Iraq and Syria, followed by Germany and Britain.
And now, a man driving a truck, reportedly a French citizen of Tunisian origin, ploughed into a crowd that was celebrating Bastille Day in Nice along the picturesque French Riviera, killing at least 84 and injuring hundred others. This attack comes just eight months after Islamic State-linked extremists killed nearly 130 people at the Bataclan concert hall and other sites across Paris.
Islamic State sympathisers are already reveling on social media after the attack, with one tweet saying, “The number of those killed had reached 62 french crusaders and sinful infidels in Nice, France.. God is great, God is great.” However, if this attack turns out to be the work of Islamic terrorists, then France could very well become the number one target.
The question is, even though Islamic extremists consider the US as their greatest enemy, why France again?
France has a long, complex history with the Muslim world. With a population of around 66 million, the country has a 7-9 per cent (approx) Muslim population who are mostly immigrants from North Africa and their descendants. After France conquest of Algeria in 1830, it seemingly considered Muslim Africa as its own backyard. During the World War I, and after the country conquered Syria and Lebanon as well, many Frenchmen settled in North Africa, while many North Africans came to France looking for employment in new factories. Many immigrant Africans settled in poor areas of Lyon, Paris and up North.
In post-industrial France, many factories and industries shut down resulting in widespread unemployment. However, the settlers stayed back. The subsequent generations thereafter harboured massive discontent for France for their exclusion from the French society, and the country did not do a great job at integrating them. These settlements, known pejoratively as banlieues, are believed to have become a significant recruitment pool for jihadist elements like ISIS and al Qaeda, say experts.
Largely symbolic measures against Muslims, such as the 2010 ban on wearing face veils in public, also added to the simmering anger.
Perhaps, what’s immediately relevant to know is France President Hollande had decided on Thursday, a day before Bastille Day celebrations, to redeploy the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier this fall to step up the fight against the Islamic State group and suggested an increase in ground troops for training and support to take back Mosul, in northern Iraq. “We must strike and destroy those who aggressed us here in two sets of attacks last year,” Hollande had said.
This, coupled with an already intensive airstrikes in IS-held territories in Iraq and Syria beginning last September has probably fanned rabid hatred for France from jihadists. What is more revealing is the fact that the Islamic State has consistently lashed out at France for its current policies that it considers un-Islamic.
In a string of statements after the Bataclan Theatre attack, the IS had said France remains the primary target. “France and those who follow its path must know that they remain the principal targets of the Islamic State,” read the IS statement. It also referred to Paris as a “capital of prostitution and obscenity”. In fact, one of the witnesses in the Bataclan theatre attack, according to the New York Times, also reportedly heard a terrorist saying,”This is because of all the harm done by Hollande to Muslims all over the world.”
Some experts on terrorism had argued a year ago about whether it should intervene in the Iraq and Syria crises claiming that the Islamic State posed no threat to the world. The carnage in Nice just goes to show how misleading the analysis was.