Last night, during festivities to celebrate Bastille Day in Nice, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel—only one terrorist has so far been identified—killed 84 people, including ten children, and left 18 more in critical condition. It was the seventh terrorist attack in France in 18 months.
People had gathered on the popular Promenade des Anglais. As soon as the fireworks finished, a white van plowed into the crowd. The driver continued for more than a mile, mowing down everyone in his path, until he was shot dead. A witness described “bodies flying like bowling pins.” Documents found in the truck show that it belonged to a French national who was born in Tunisia. He was known to the police as a petty criminal, but unknown to the anti-terrorist service.
At 3:30 A.M., French president François Hollande announced that next week he will submit to parliament legislation to extend the state of emergency. “All of France is under the threat of Islamist terrorism,” he said. “Our vigilance must be relentless.” Operation Sentinel, he said, which provides for the permanent deployment of some 7,000 soldiers in France, will be maintained “at a high level.” He has also decided to call up the operational reserve: all those who once served in the armed forces or police have been asked to relieve the burden on police staff and the gendarmes. “We can deploy them everywhere we need them, and in particular at the borders,” Hollande said. The dream of a Europe open from the Baltic to the Adriatic is dying. Hollande vowed to strengthen French operations in Syria and Iraq. “We will continue to strike those who attack us in their lair,” he said, without explicitly assigning credit to the Islamic State.
The attack came at the end of a day in which FBI director James Comey told the House Homeland Security Committee, “We all know there will be a terrorist diaspora out of the caliphate as military forces crush the caliphate.” Last month, ISIS’s cyber-caliphate channel reminded its followers that vehicles can be used as weapons. Though Islamic State social media accounts celebrated the Nice attack, ISIS itself has not yet claimed credit.
No one is surprised. Depressed, yes, but not surprised. French officials have repeatedly warned that there will be more attacks. ISIS has made its strategy explicit: exhaust the police and push France into civil war. Two days ago, testimony from France’s intelligence chief, Patrick Calvar, was made public by a parliamentary commission on terrorism. Calvar predicted that Islamic extremists would attack with booby-trapped vehicles and bombs. He raised as well the possibility of radiological attacks and the use of ricin. Further attacks were, he said, inevitable. He also said that he was “concerned about the radicalization of society.” Confrontation between the ultra-right and “the Muslim world—not the Islamists, but the Muslim world,” was also “inevitable,” he said. He warned of the risk of civil war. In May, Calvar had suggested that France was only “one or two” more attacks away from this.
This is, of course, what ISIS hopes to achieve. Its propaganda relies on the narrative that Muslims cannot live amid “Crusaders,” and must take sides. Their strategy, as the Marxist dialecticians used to say, is to “heighten the contradictions.”
There’s little more to say. We’re all demoralized by it.
Photo by Patrick Aventurier