Unemployment in French Muslim communities driving youth to radicalism - ex-intelligence chief
The tragedy in Nice is the latest horrifying terrorist attack to hit France, with hundreds of people falling victim to extremists. Authorities are waging a frantic battle against the plague of radicalism, at the same facing criticism from citizens, who are upset by the limitation of their liberties. Yet self-radicalized ‘soldiers of the caliphate’ are ready to kill and be killed in the name of Islamic State. Why does France face a disproportionate share of terrorist violence? Will French citizens now have to accept this kind of threat as a part of their daily lives? And with a strong backlash against the Muslim community now inevitable - could a civil war be ripening in France? We ask former intelligence chief at France's External Security Agency, Alain Juillet, on Sophie&Co today.
Sophie Shevardnadze:Alain Juillet, former intelligence chief at France's External Security Agency, welcome to the show, it's great to have you with us. Now, Mr. Juillet, was the Nice attacker a lone wolf or a terrorist acting under the command of Islamic State?
Alain Juillet: Up to now, the last attack - we have no official information about whether it is linked with Daesh, with ISIS, but all information around this attack shows that the same system was used as in other countries, therefore, we are sure that it is really a terrorist attack coming from Syria, managed by Syria.
SS: The man was completely unknown to the intelligence services of France, so have the terrorists now found the way to completely evade the law enforcement's radar?
AJ: It's true that this man was unknown, absolutely unknown up to now, but if you check the history of this guy, it appears that during the last months he moved very quickly to be convinced to become an Islamic terrorist. So, the problem is the speed with which he moves from being a usual Muslim to a terrorist, and that will be part of the survey and the study we have to make now in order to understand all the links and all the ways to achieve such an evolution.
SS: Now, we learned about a text message that Bouhlel sent to someone thanking them for providing weapons. Is it even possible to be a true lone wolf, won't you always need accomplices if you're planning a deadly attack like that?
AJ: You know, from the weapons he asked for in a message that has been discovered by the French police, it is clear that he was trying to make a big attack, in which the first part was with the lorry, with the truck and the second part was firing against people around the truck, and by chance, he has started the attack with just a small weapon and therefore, he has been unable to fight at the second stage, and that's a chance that saved some lives.
SS: Now, days before the attack Bouhlel sent a large sum of money - over $100,000 - to his family in Tunisia. His brother told Britain's Mail Online that he couldn't understand where he got this money from. Is this evidence that some powerful structure is behind him after all?
AJ: I have read, as you said, we have learned about this story of $100,000 in Tunisia. First point is to be sure that it is true and up to now, it is not proved. This information is not proved. Now, if it is proved in the future, it will be very interesting, because it will explain part of the story. As you know, certainly, in Lebanon, Syria, in Iraq, when someone blows himself, the family receives money - that's the part of the deal. The guy or the girl becomes a Shahid and the family receives money to compensate the loss of the human, of the brother or the sister or the husband. Therefore, if it is true that the family received $100,000 in Tunisia, it will show that it is really a terrorist attack managed and organized by the terrorist group in Syria and Iraq - that is to say, by ISIS or a group close to ISIS.
SS: You know, Bouhlel’s uncle told the media that Bouhlel was recruited by ISIS two weeks prior to the attack. Could that explain the money? I mean, however the French authorities are still not confirming the ISIS link.
AJ: The French have been fighting terrorism for a long time, therefore we know very well how to fight against them with our techniques. The problem is - each time it's the same - the problem is a matter of information, the research of information. It's clear that it's easier for us to control a network, because when you have a terrorist network, later on something emerges, you discover something, and so it's possible to go to the heart of the terrorist network. Now, when you have an individual, despite the fact that this individual is online and in contact with other people in other countries, it's very difficult to find him and to understand what he is doing. And moreover, when you have a case like this one, in which radicalization has been made very quickly - as you know, on one hand, and on the other hand, the attack is planned and organized by one individual: therefore it's very difficult for the intelligence services to check this kind of attack. That's the problem. In the fight against terrorism you can do a lot, and we do a lot, our services are acting very efficiently, but it's impossible to avoid everything. From time to time something bad goes through your network. That's the problem we face today.
SS: You know, people who knew Bouhlel say that he drank alcohol, he smoke, he dated women and never went to a mosque - what do you make of that? Why is a non-observant Muslim committing an act of religious terrorism?
AJ: There's a fatwa published by ISIS saying that when you are doing an attack against non croyant, as they say, and that is to say against Christians, Jewish or others, in order to succeed in your attack you are allowed to do everything to hide the fact that you are the muslim terrorist. That is to say, you can drink, you cannot have a beard, you are not obliged to pray five times a day - so you are out of the system during the attack in order for it not to be recognized that you are a terrorist. This fatwa exists and in this case it is clear that we are in this situation. Now, the second point is that this guy has recently moved to become a terrorist and before he was not there at all. So, he was drinking, looking for girls and so on. So, now, it will be interesting to know what he has done during the last months or during the last two months, because all testimonies are speaking about the guy that people have known six months ago or one year ago. The problem is that he radicalized in less than three months. Therefore, it would be of interest to check how he was one or two weeks ago. Maybe he was drinking, maybe not, maybe he was doing what is forbidden, maybe not - we do not know. Up to now, but the inquiry by the police will study all these points and I'm sure that in the next few weeks we will know the situation exactly about the past and the present of this terrorist and that will help us to find good ways to fight against the same kind of terrorism in the future.
SS:France has become the target of terrorist attacks three times in the last 2 years. This string of attacks is leaving many people wondering - why France?
AJ: Because we were the first country fighting against them in Syria, and therefore, we have been the first to react very strongly, and therefore we are the first, and moreover, as you know, in France we have voted for the law, two years ago, saying that it is not allowed to wear a niqab, you know, in public places. For all these reasons they consider France as really the worst enemy, and therefore, we are attack step after step. The problem now that we face is an evolution between what was before - a specific murders or specific terrorist attacks against a category: Jewish, journalists, or others - and now, with the the Bataclan story in November and now with the Nice story, the Nice attack, it's clear that they have turned to mass murdering and they look for the killing of a lot people, whatever will be the origins or religion or the age of the people, and they want to kill a lot of people and moreover, the want to scare our population and to push potential tourists to avoid from coming to France, in order to push them into difficulty. That's clearly is the policy.
SS: The state of emergency in France has been in place since the November terrorist attacks in Paris and it has been prolonged for 3 months in the wake of the attack in Nice. French security services were on high alert during the Euro-2016 football championship. Unprecedented numbers of armed forces are patrolling the streets, yet the massive celebrations in Nice were not secure enough. Why not?
AJ: Well, for a terrorist the problem is to find to place where it is possible to do the attack. During the Euro football tournament it was very difficult for them to make an attack in the crowded places because everything was controlled and the security system implemented in France was, obviously, very efficient. They have used Nice because it was a crowded meeting but it was not covered by police organization as were others, because no one was thinking about the possibility of an attack. All the time you can have an attack, but we were not thinking it was a first priority target.
SS: Prime Minister Manuel Valls was booed when he arrived at the mourning ceremony in Nice. Why are the locals angry at him? Do you think Manuel Valls should be held responsible for letting this attack happen?
AJ: After this awful killing, the Prime Minister has moved to Nice in order to say to all the Nice people "We are with you, we support you, we share your sadness". Now, some people in the crowd were very upset about this killing and so they have reacted against the Prime Minister, but you don't have to see it as an opposition against the Prime Minister, you have to see it as a strong reaction of the people who are upset by all these terrorist attacks and are asking for improvement of the security methods in France. It's usual, you know, some people want to see us being more tough against terrorism and others remind us that we are in democracy in which we have values, we have laws and we have to respect our laws and our values. Therefore, the difficulty for the government is always to keep the balance between the two options. In my opinion, up to now, they are doing it very well because it's not easy and as you know during the last months we have evaded other attacks because they were discovered before.
SS: Now the perpetrators of attacks in France, they're not only under the influence of radical ideology, but they all share a hatred for France: a country where they live or where they were born, where they even grew up. Why the second or third generation of migrants hate the country which in essence is their own?
AJ: Don't make a mistake. France is a country in which we have always known migrants: coming from the north, coming from south, coming from the east, coming from the west - all the time we have received migrants. Each time we have a period in which it is necessary to integrate them, and we have some difficulties. Each time we have found a solution in the end. All these migrants have been assimilated to be French people. Now, the problem is, it’s true that the second generation of people from the south, that is to say from North Africa and Africa, in the second generation some of them are very sad and very upset by the fact that it is difficult for them to find a job, to work in our country, because, as you know, we have a lot of unemployment and therefore, for this kind of population, it's very difficult to find an employment. So, they react in two ways: some of them are waiting and consider that the French government is not doing for them what is required and necessary, and a little part of the others, the little part of them, the others are looking to fight this government, this regime, this country in which they are not recognized. That's the way they start to become terrorists. But by chance, the number of potential terrorists is really very-very reduced. The problem is that one guy can do a lot.
SS:The risk of attacks against Muslim communities is high now in France. The head of France's internal intelligence service warned a parliamentary committee that France is on a brink of a civil war between the extreme right and the muslim world. Do you believe it could come to that, do you believe it's that bad?
AJ: No, no. It's impossible to say that. In France we have a lot of Muslims. Islam is a second religion in France and the large majority of Muslims are quite happy to be in France and they don't want to change something. Really, a very little part... the problem is that this little part now is linked with, I would say, due to the difficulties, they are linked with people who are doing robberies, selling drugs and so one - which are violent people. Therefore, this makes violent people, coming from the crime side, and violent people going or being on the terrorist side, create this problem in France today. But, it's just a matter of time. I'm sure than in one, two or three years it will be finished. It's not the first time we suffer from terrorism in France, and not the last, also, and so it's just a matter of time in order to solve this problem and to reduce the risk to quite nothing.
SS: Is this attack going to spark a police crackdown on the Muslim community? And is that what ISIS really wants?
AJ: No. They tried. The strategy of ISIS is very clear. They want to create an opposition between the Muslim people and other people in France. But they made a big mistake: the mistake is, as I said, that the big majority of Muslims are involved in the French system and don't want to change at all. They don't want to come back to their migrant country, they don't want to be involved in such stories, and up to now, they are very quiet, they don't move, and the police knows it very well. So, the police is clever. The French police and the French Army will never jump into this, I would say, this trap. They will still make a difference between the real Muslim and some terrorists, who are a kind of sect and nothing more.
SS: Approximately 70% of the French prison population is Muslim, and that's while only about 7% of the general population of France is Muslim. With the prisons mainly Muslim, is there a danger that they will become a fertile ground for ISIS recruitment?
AJ: As you have said, Muslims represent between 7% and 10%, because we don't know exactly the level, because don’t forget that you have all sorts of French people practicing Muslim religion, therefore, it's not possible to say that there's only 7%. Maybe it's 10% practicing the Muslim religion in France and all the others being, for a smaller part, the Jews, and for the main part, the Christians. Now, and a big part also is people who are not adept to any religion, don't forget it in France, because it's more than 40% of the population. Therefore, it's just a part. Everybody makes a difference between this extremist Muslims and the others. Everybody is making a difference, because we know very well... In France, we have people coming from countries practicing Maliki rite, it’s a Moroccan style of Islam. When you are Maliki, for instance, you are against any terrorist act, it's against your religion. I give you that as an example. That is to say, a lot of people are against that. The problem overall is not to mix the extremists with the others, and on this part, I think France has a good experience and knows very well how to make it done.
SS: You know, when the attacks happened in Brussels, it became clear that there isn't enough security in airports, railway stations, the subway - and we've seen European countries imposing border controls and curtailing one of Europe's most prized liberties: the freedom of movement. How do you strike a balance between the EU's democratic values and security? I mean, what kind of civil liberties will Europe have to give up?
AJ: You have the answer in France, in the laws: the Parliament has voted some months ago about search of information, what we call the "Information law", which is not as a Patriot Act in the U.S. - that is to say, it's respecting our values, but, at the same time, it makes more difficult to act against the Republique, against our country. I think this reaction has been the same in a lot of other countries in Europe - if you look at Germany, Spain, Italy, England - all these countries, after the Bataclan attack and the Brussels attacks, all the countries have decided to be more tough, to improve the control of their country, but always keeping in mind the values that are our values, because if we forget our values - we lose, and ISIS will win, and this is not acceptable.
SS: Thank you very much for this interview. We were talking to Alain Juillet, former intelligence chief at the French external security agency, talking about the aftermath of the deadly terrorist attack in French Nice, and how is the country preparing to thwart future dangers. That's it for this edition of Sophie&Co, I will see you next time.