The attack on the Bir-Hakeim bridge in Paris occurred almost two months after that in Arras. Is the jihadist threat intensifying in France?
Let us not forget that in 2020, seven jihadist attacks were carried out on our territory: at the Notre-Dame basilica in Nice, near the Samuel Paty high school in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines) or even in Villejuif (Val -de-Marne)… Since the attacks committed by Mohamed Merah in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne) and Montauban (Tarn-et-Garonne) in 2012 which ended a period of lull of sixteen years, we have experienced at least one jihadist attack per year, including one fatal each year for eight years. Currently, France remains the most affected Western country.
In the jihadists’ narrative, France appears as an enemy nation due to controversies surrounding secularism, such as the ban on the wearing of religious symbols at school. The caricatures published in the weekly Charlie Hebdo also remain very present in the minds of jihadists. The fact that Paris actively participated in the fall of the Islamic State within the international coalition in Iraq and Syria also plays a role. The conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Middle East can serve as justification for new actions.
What is the profile of jihadists acting on French soil?
We can talk about a new generation. Today’s Islamist terrorists have a different profile than those of 2015, many of whom had a serious criminal past and benefited from logistical support from terrorist groups based abroad, such as Daesh. Nowadays, these are younger attackers, who may have been indoctrinated via the Internet. Social networks serve as propaganda vectors for these groups, which continue, by this means, to be active remotely. These individuals are often immersed in a family or social environment favorable to jihadist ideology.
The author of the last attack was on S file and had been sentenced to five years in prison for another planned attack. Like him, nearly 80 jihadists are released each year. What follow-up should be established upon their release?
The attack on the Bir-Hakeim bridge constitutes the first fatal attack carried out in public space by a jihadist who has served his sentence. It illustrates the case of those leaving prison who can still remain followers of this ideology. Many received relatively light sentences – between four and eight years in prison – for traveling to Syria, for example. They took advantage of a form of judicial naivety: it was before the 2015 attacks, France had not yet been massively affected. From now on, jihadists are sentenced to ten, fifteen, even twenty years in prison. In the years to come, we will find ourselves facing less and less ex-prisoners with this profile.
Back in the debate is security detention, which aims to deprive an individual of liberty who has served his sentence, for preventive purposes. Should it be extended to people already convicted of terrorism and to radicalized S files?
While I can understand the desire to find a solution to the terrorist threat, security detention seems of little relevance, especially concerning individuals on the S file. There are 10,000 of them, including 5,300 for jihadist radicalization. It would be difficult to introduce a measure against an individual who has not been criminally convicted, because there is currently no legal basis. The S form is therefore not a sufficient criterion to justify security detention, due to a certain number of legal and ethical questions.
What other avenues are you considering?
We must respond to the danger in the long term and act at all levels. However, until now, we seem to rediscover the threat posed by jihadist terrorism in France every three or four years, when we are overcome by emotion. Let us continue to activate our security lever by thwarting planned attacks, while strengthening the prevention of radicalization. We can use religious mediators in prisons, set up more cultural projects or use sport to raise awareness among young people… There is no single solution to combat the jihadist threat.
51 attacks and attacks have hit France over the past ten years.