Bastille Day terror attack: Why France is such a soft target?

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France is again reeling after another night of carnage that left around 80 people dead and hundred others injured in the resort city of Nice on late Thursday, plowing through revelers who had gathered to watch fireworks. This happened on the Bastille Day which is the country’s national day marking the beginning of the French Revolution driving a significant blow by the people of France to a tyrannical, monarchical regime.

A truck loaded with weapons and hand grenades drove onto a sidewalk for more than a mile before the driver emerged and began shooting. Identity papers belonging to a 31-year-old French-Tunisian were found inside the lorry, a police source said early Friday.

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Meanwhile, the Paris prosecutor’s office, which oversees counterterrorism investigations in France, has taken charge of the inquiry. This is the latest in a series of bloody attacks since the murder in the Charlie Hebdo offices in January 2015.

The national emergency has been extended for another three months after last night’s terror strike. It is a period that restricts civil liberties, allowing police to conduct searches without a warrant and place people under house arrest.

After last year’s November Paris attacks, a French parliamentary investigation has identified multiple failings by France’s intelligence agencies.

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The parliamentary commission was set up to assess the failure to prevent a series of attacks that killed a total of 147 people in 2015 – from January’s gun attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and a kosher grocery store to the coordinated gun and bomb attacks on November 13 outside the national sports stadium, at bars and restaurants and at a rock gig at the Bataclan concert hall.

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The commission highlighted a “global failure” of French intelligence and recommended a total overhaul of the intelligence services and the creation of a single, US-style national counter-terrorism agency.

But the question remains as to why has France emerged as a terror target?

The country has undoubtedly had a long history of its association with the Muslim world and organised religion. And for this Jihad seems to hit it harder than anywhere else in Europe.

Since 1830, when it established French autonomy in Algeria, it has had much of Muslim Africa as its own backyard. After World War I, France also took control of Syria and Lebanon. Many French settled in North Africa and after World War II, many North Africans came to France to work in new factories. In the post-industrial era, factories were shut down but the settlers stayed on. And it is their children and grandchildren who in 2005 exploded in rage over their exclusion from French society that continues till date.

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According to a report, unlike other European colonial powers, the French never really left their former colonies, continuing to intervene economically and militarily to defend France’s national interests in Africa and the Near East. This meant battling al Qaeda and ISIS in Mali, Iraq, and, also in Syria. So when disaffected young men and women tune in to Jihadi websites, they find French-speaking Muslims telling them of the sins their government is committing against their “brothers and sisters” in Iraq and Syria. Resentment at French racism, at the series of largely symbolic measures taken against Muslims, such as the 2010 ban on wearing face-veils in public, add to this anger and lead some towards fighting. There is a constant clash of French traditions and values with Islamic incompatibility. French lieutenants have time and again attacked Islam directly.

John R Bowen, Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis, says “France will not change its decades-old foreign policy, nor are rights and practices of satire likely to fade away. But the main impact may be to use the attacks as an excuse to blame Islam and immigration for broad anxieties about where things are going in Europe today. Such a confusion can only strengthen the far right.”

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