The terror threat from a defeated Islamic State

COLUMN

Two years ago a terrorist massacre took place in Paris with more than 500 civilian casualties; the victims were gunned down or blown-up by Muslim jihadists in co-ordinated attacks at public venues in the French capital, starting with suicide bombers at a soccer stadium then a mass execution at an indoor concert.

The second anniversary of these atrocities was recently commemorated by French government officials, and survivors. Walking home from the gym that day I chanced upon one public ceremony that was attended by two French presidents, the former, Francois Hollande, and his successor Emmanuel Macron, whose motorcade by chance drew up in front of where I was standing.

President Macron was surrounded by very tight security, as was this venue. Outside the fenced perimeter were police armed with machine guns, and surveillance personnel in black overcoats with coiled wires emerging from their collar lines to tiny earpieces.

All walk-in visitors were stopped and screened by security staff — a cursory check of bags mostly, but nonetheless a control on the free flow of the public.

It got me wondering about France’s nation-state security, in particular when examined in relation to its open border policy.

By mutual agreement, all member states of the European Union allow free movement between themselves. Which means that in addition to commercial traffic and tourists, illegal migrants can also benefit from uncontrolled travel between EU states.

Questioned during a recent debate about illegal migrants in France, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb stated that the number had reached 300,000, although some officials put the figure much higher.

The influx of illegal migrants poses all sorts of social problems, not the least of which is that it provides cover for infiltrating jihadists. Indeed, that’s how some of the perpetrators of the November 2015 attacks entered France.

Clearly jihadists returning from the Middle East are a major concern for many European countries, since they pose a lethally-demonstrated but invisible threat to national security.

Recently President Macron made permanent an anti-terrorism law which used to be the so-called emergency law imposed by former president Hollande. This controversial law gives unprecedented power to the police.

Critics have challenged the efficiency of this law in tackling terrorism. They argue that since 2015 when Hollande’s emergency law was introduced, 10 jihadist terror attacks have been committed in France.

In reply, Interior Minister Collomb has told journalists that at least 17 terror attacks were thwarted in 2016, and that by July this year, an additional seven attacks had been foiled by security and intelligence authorities.

All well and good, except now that President Bashar Assad has survived the war in Syria, many hundreds of foreign-origin jihadists are expected to try to return to Europe. French authorities calculate a possible return from the Middle East of some 700 of their nationals.

Across Europe, state security and intelligence personnel admit they are already struggling to maintain the most basic surveillance on the current population of suspected jihadists.

So the question remains: given the ease with which they can travel overland from the Middle East, what impact, if any, would returning battle-experienced jihadists have on the long-term security of Europe?

Keep in mind that we are talking about many foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh. It’s not difficult to comprehend that France would prefer none of its home-grown fighters to return.

That is what France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly meant when he recently declared to journalists that “we are committed to the destruction of Daesh”, adding ominously, “if jihadists die in this fighting, then it’s for the best”.

In fact, the French have already taken steps to ensure that as few as possible of its citizen-jihadists escape from Syrian or Iraqi battlefields. Credible reports in both local and international media inform us that when identified, French jihadists are being targeted in the field and executed. This has been the case in the Syrian city of Raqqa (the capital of Daesh’s designated Islamic caliphate), as well as across the border in Iraq’s Mosul, where hit-lists of potential targets are said to have been provided by French Special Forces to local government military units.

Compounding the problem is confusion in France about what crimes returning jihadists could be legally charged with; moreover, social justice champions have argued against the deportation of these returnees since it would be a denial of their human rights!

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Paris last month, when counter-terrorism units raided a suspect’s home they uncovered (in addition to Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition) two anti-tank rockets of East European origin, attesting to the robust black market in war weapons.

All this illustrates one disenchanting reality about globalism, no less a warning about safeguarding our future, which is that armed conflict — just as the flow of illegal migrants — cannot be curtailed by international borders.

Two years ago a terrorist massacre took place in Paris with more than 500 civilian casualties; the victims were gunned down or blown-up by Muslim jihadists in co-ordinated attacks at public venues in the French capital, starting with suicide bombers at a soccer stadium then a mass execution at an indoor concert.

The second anniversary of these atrocities was recently commemorated by French government officials, and survivors. Walking home from the gym that day I chanced upon one public ceremony that was attended by two French presidents, the former, Francois Hollande, and his successor Emmanuel Macron, whose motorcade by chance drew up in front of where I was standing.

President Macron was surrounded by very tight security, as was this venue. Outside the fenced perimeter were police armed with machine guns, and surveillance personnel in black overcoats with coiled wires emerging from their collar lines to tiny earpieces.

All walk-in visitors were stopped and screened by security staff — a cursory check of bags mostly, but nonetheless a control on the free flow of the public.

It got me wondering about France’s nation-state security, in particular when examined in relation to its open border policy.

By mutual agreement, all member states of the European Union allow free movement between themselves. Which means that in addition to commercial traffic and tourists, illegal migrants can also benefit from uncontrolled travel between EU states.

Questioned during a recent debate about illegal migrants in France, Interior Minister Gerard Collomb stated that the number had reached 300,000, although some officials put the figure much higher.

The influx of illegal migrants poses all sorts of social problems, not the least of which is that it provides cover for infiltrating jihadists. Indeed, that’s how some of the perpetrators of the November 2015 attacks entered France.

Clearly jihadists returning from the Middle East are a major concern for many European countries, since they pose a lethally-demonstrated but invisible threat to national security.

Recently President Macron made permanent an anti-terrorism law which used to be the so-called emergency law imposed by former president Hollande. This controversial law gives unprecedented power to the police.

Critics have challenged the efficiency of this law in tackling terrorism. They argue that since 2015 when Hollande’s emergency law was introduced, 10 jihadist terror attacks have been committed in France.

In reply, Interior Minister Collomb has told journalists that at least 17 terror attacks were thwarted in 2016, and that by July this year, an additional seven attacks had been foiled by security and intelligence authorities.

All well and good, except now that President Bashar Assad has survived the war in Syria, many hundreds of foreign-origin jihadists are expected to try to return to Europe. French authorities calculate a possible return from the Middle East of some 700 of their nationals.

Across Europe, state security and intelligence personnel admit they are already struggling to maintain the most basic surveillance on the current population of suspected jihadists.

So the question remains: given the ease with which they can travel overland from the Middle East, what impact, if any, would returning battle-experienced jihadists have on the long-term security of Europe?

Keep in mind that we are talking about many foreign fighters who joined the Islamic State, also known by its Arabic acronym Daesh. It’s not difficult to comprehend that France would prefer none of its home-grown fighters to return.

That is what France’s Defence Minister Florence Parly meant when he recently declared to journalists that “we are committed to the destruction of Daesh”, adding ominously, “if jihadists die in this fighting, then it’s for the best”.

In fact, the French have already taken steps to ensure that as few as possible of its citizen-jihadists escape from Syrian or Iraqi battlefields. Credible reports in both local and international media inform us that when identified, French jihadists are being targeted in the field and executed. This has been the case in the Syrian city of Raqqa (the capital of Daesh’s designated Islamic caliphate), as well as across the border in Iraq’s Mosul, where hit-lists of potential targets are said to have been provided by French Special Forces to local government military units.

Compounding the problem is confusion in France about what crimes returning jihadists could be legally charged with; moreover, social justice champions have argued against the deportation of these returnees since it would be a denial of their human rights!

Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Paris last month, when counter-terrorism units raided a suspect’s home they uncovered (in addition to Kalashnikov assault rifles and ammunition) two anti-tank rockets of East European origin, attesting to the robust black market in war weapons.

All this illustrates one disenchanting reality about globalism, no less a warning about safeguarding our future, which is that armed conflict — just as the flow of illegal migrants — cannot be curtailed by international borders.

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