Sadly, it’s clear that the forces of law and order have developed little or no understanding of what is happening within the vast community of extremists who now seem capable of holding one of Europe’s leading, yet most vulnerable, nations in their thrall. And worse yet, France continues to lack the coordination so desperately needed if the next attack is to be thwarted before it can be unleashed.
But there is another reason France remains a target — its sheer numbers. France, a nation with one-fifth the population of the United States, has some 11,000 names
on its terror watch lists, 2,000 with alleged direct links to ISIS. According to Paul Cruickshank, a CNN terror analyst, at least 1,000 French Muslims are believed to have joined ISIS in Syria and Iraq, while at least 250 have returned.
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel, the French-Tunisian who drove Thursday night’s death truck, was on none of these lists.
Perhaps the most frightening reality is that ISIS has discovered, as coordinated attacks on their seized territory have thwarted their aim of establishing a caliphate across the Middle East, that they have no real need to hold territory to achieve their ends. The caliphate today is all around us. (ISIS has not claimed responsibility for the Nice attack.)
Twenty years ago, the Count Alexandre de Marenches, the longtime head of French intelligence, warned me as we worked on our book “The Fourth World War: Diplomacy and Espionage in the Age of Terrorism
” that the greatest single danger to France was the existence “within our nation of another nation we do not understand, whose language we do not speak, whose customs we do not know, whose hopes and aspirations we do not share.”
In the same video, one of ISIS’ top spokesmen, Abu Mohammed al Adnani, expanded the target, urging the group’s admirers to “kill a disbelieving American or European — especially the spiteful and filthy French — or an Australian, or a Canadian.”
So is this what we still have to anticipate? Jihadists targeting our water supplies, assembling car and truck bombs, deranged individuals forcing us to look behind us at every turn? Perhaps. But the real answer may have come Friday morning from French Prime Minister Manuel Valls who told a national television audience: “We will not yield to terrorists. The only response will be to remain loyal to the spirit of the 14th of July,” France’s equivalent of July 4th.
That spirit, though, must come with a greater understanding of the vast networks of disenfranchised and easily radicalized French men and women. To build this understanding requires a clear and present effort to bring them into society, employ them in meaningful jobs and educate them properly so that they feel a part of their adopted nation with a stake in its future. Only then will they cease to be a breeding ground for terrorists and cooperate in efforts to bring this cycle of violence to an end.