Two weeks ago, France endured another terrorist attack by one of their own, who authorities now believe acted in allegiance to ISIS. On October 16, France’s Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, also announced that before the October 3 attack, French intelligence agents thwarted another attack; having arrested an individual in the planning stages of a tragedy that is claimed to have been inspired by the September 11 attacks in the US. News of this previously unknown individual and the October 3 attack indicates that France continues to be one of the terrorist world’s number one priorities. Now with the possible resurrection of ISIS, France could be reeling in the same betrayal felt by the Kurds.
On October 3, at the police headquarters in Paris, a 16-year-old veteran with a security clearance, Mickael Harpon, described as an IT specialist, brandished a knife and commenced attacking his co-workers; killing four including three officers and a civilian worker. The headquarters sits directly across the street from the Notre Dame cathedral, the site of a failed 2016 attack by ISIS militants. Initial reporting first characterized the attack as possible workplace violence. The police union stated that it believed Harpon, who was killed in the attack by police, had been involved in a dispute either with co-workers or with the agency in general.
However, that mindset quickly changed. Harpon, 45, was a convert to Islam, and, reportedly, had become incrementally radicalized over some time. In less than two weeks following the attack, French authorities arrested five individuals, including the imam who preached at Harpon’s mosque. The imam, as it turned out, was known to French security agents, as he was listed on France’s “Fiche S”; a list of individuals who have been determined to represent a potential security threat.
Though ISIS has claimed responsibility for similar attacks in the past, it has not stated the same, thus far, about this attack. Nevertheless, Harpon’s allegiance to them has become obvious. French investigators have, reportedly, discovered a USB drive full of ISIS propaganda videos as well as, what could be described as, evidence that Harpon was gathering intel and information about other officers potentially to be distributed to the terrorist network.
After France’s nearly half a century engagement against Islamic terrorism, how Harpon, a government worker with a security clearance, could have maintained his access to people, property, and information while, essentially, being a student of a known security threat remains unclear.
Especially, because a former French intelligence agent, assigned to domestic matters, told the French publication Le Journal du Dimanche: “We knew he was radicalized”. Castaner, in response, is directing that all employees connected to law enforcement and intelligence are to be vetted over the next few weeks.
Since 2015, France has suffered a string of attacks which claimed the lives of hundreds of people. Additionally, the September 11 inspired but thwarted attack represented the 60th such attempt in the past six years. In reality, though, none of this is new to France, as its history reads like a history of terrorism and the attempt to combat it.
France’s History with Terrorism
France’s terrorist issues pre-date that of the United States’ and its historic relationship with, specifically radicalized Islamic terrorism, continues to assault its present state. The origin of the very word terrorist comes from the French Revolution, and the past 50 years, has demonstrated that France and terrorism are still very much entwined. From its alliance with the United States and Israel to its military involvements in the Muslim world, such as Afghanistan and Lebanon, all of which are precursors to its contemporary actions in Iraq and Syria, have all served to maintain France in having a place in the front of the terrorist mind.
As France is considered to be an atheist nation, its policies and actions regarding the Middle East have been a basis upon which radicalized sectarian groups act. These tensions have all been intensified as France, throughout the 21st century, continued to engage in actions seen as atheist attacks against God.
In 2004, France outlawed wearing religious clothing in schools, followed up with its 2010 ban on burqas; the traditional Muslim face coverings which females are required to wear. France’s military involvement in Mali against Islamic radicalized forces only served to set France as a primary target for terrorists. These policy decisions alone marked France as a “flagship of disbelief and Allah’s enemies”.
On October 3, 1980, terrorists bombed a Paris synagogue which resulted in four fatalities and 11 people wounded. The investigation discovered that the attacks were of Middle Eastern origins. This attack was the sixth in a string of attacks which plagued the French people in 1980. The October 3, 1980 attack is considered to be the beginning of the Islamic terrorist movement’s campaign against France and its foreign policy and involvement in the Middle East. October 3, 2019, marked the nearly 50-year commitment to that call to arms.
A decade later, France’s Middle East policies and actions were again a trigger, having terminated French colonial rule but not its influence, in making the French homeland fertile soil for the Algerian Civil War. A conflict, like every other previous uprising for regime change in the region, was saturated with radicalized ideologies founded upon an individualized misinterpretation of Islam which fueled a nationalist-focused extermination of a supposed infestation of infidel influence as a result of Western imperialism. The fact that the terrorists who attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo in 2015 were of Algerian descent cannot simply be dismissed as anecdotal.
Like Algeria, France’s relationship with Syria is far from contemporary. As Syria represents the latest expansion and conquest of Islamic terrorists, there is no coincidence that France would enter into the equation. From the beginning of the Syrian civil war, as Assad engaged in chemical weapon attacks against his people, France became militarily involved in the conflict. France’s military intervention, to end the Assad regime, also took the opportunity to engage terrorist factions and camps in the hopes of cleansing the world of their evil.
Consequently and with a significant amount of brainwashing and propaganda disseminated and carried out by individuals such as Harpon’s imam, France has been responsible for comprising an overwhelming percentage of the foreign-born terrorist (FTT) influx into the Syrian conflict. Thousands of individuals, all sharing France as an origin, have filed into the ranks of terrorist networks in both Syria and Iraq, with the majority having gone to Syria.
Thus, the recent events in Syria, brought on by President Trump’s sudden retreat from the battlefield, marks not only a betrayal by the United States on the Kurds and the Syrian people, but France and Europe-in-general, as well. Currently, hundreds of FTT’s who have EU and French citizenship sit in Kurdish controlled prisons. Before Trump’s retreat, the Kurd’s were responsible for roughly 11,000 ISIS prisoners, 2,500 of which are deemed highly dangerous, spread out over nearly 30 prisons, in Northern Syria. Significant detention sites are situated within or relatively close to the Turkish demanded “safe zone”.
Now that Trump has given Turkey the green light to launch its campaign of genocide against the former US ally, these prisons, and thus the occupants are no longer secured. Though Erdogan, on October 18, agreed to a five-day “pause,” that temporary suspension only applies to a very limited and specific zone of operations within the Syrian theatre. Most significantly, it has not been specifically stated or clarified that the “pause of operations” will be enforced in Kobani or Hasakah; the cities where major ISIS prisons are located.
Though that issue and concern could be essentially moot now, as the ISIS prisoners have had more than enough time to escape. It is known that individuals have already left detention camps in the region. Additionally, official reports have stated that ISIS terrorists are simply being released back onto the field of combat. Belgium has already confirmed that two of its FTTs, with Belgium citizenship, have escaped and their whereabouts are unknown.
While the United States’ premise for entering Syria was the War on Terror, Trump has made it clear that these ISIS prisoners were not his concern. The Pentagon has stated that it did not have an exit strategy which included securing the prisons or evacuating the prisoners.
Fueling the concern of a return of ISIS not only to Syria, but Europe is Erdogan’s threat to allow refugees to storm the European border. Though Trump is, arguably, the most anti-refugee and anti-immigration leader in the Western hemisphere, he has already dismissed any concern for what could potentially occur, simply remarking that it’s “not our border”.
Thus, the relationship between France and terrorism will very likely have a future documented in blood and death. ISIS may have been defeated, but they never gave up, and that is the most critical distinction between the terrorists and President Trump. Now, France like the Kurds essentially has to play the situation out and assign itself to contingencies to ensure their future, while recalling the solemn promise the United States made in 2001; “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists,”.