"The French authorities will be concerned about the possibility of follow-up attacks."by Pauline Neville-Jones / July 15, 2016 / Leave a comment
As I write at midday on 13th July, there is much that is not known publicly about the horrific attack in Nice last night just as the Bastille Day firework celebrations ended. What we do know is that at least 84 people have been killed. It has been reported that a further 188 people are receiving treatment in hospital after being injured in the attack, with 48 of them in intensive care.
Though no claim of authorship has been made by any organisation, it has all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack. The protection given by French security authorities to the Euro football games made them a hard target for terrorists. The celebration by holidaying families of French National Day on the other hand provided a target which was equally prominent but much softer. Instilling fear, dividing society and deterring tourism are all terrorist objectives.
The identity details in the cab of the lorry, assuming they belong to the driver, indicate a French/Tunisian dual national, with a criminal background, who obviously wanted his identity known. The area round Nice has been a prolific recruiting ground for jihadists going to Syria, as has Tunisia too. The longer the time before any claim on the attack is made, the more likely local organisation is rather than tight central direction by groups such as Islamic State. The method used—a vehicle driven into a crowd to cause death—is a first in Europe but is a technique familiar to Israelis. Variety of attack methods is a terrorist advantage.
Was this attack committed by a loner, or was a group involved? This is a vital question to which the security authorities must obtain answers. The truck driver appears to have been alone but the fact there were guns and grenades in the vehicle suggests there were at least local associates. Links to a wider network certainly cannot be excluded and detailed investigation of terrorist attacks very often uncovers such links which, of course, can cross borders. Hence the immediate action taken by France to strengthen border control. The French authorities will also be concerned about the possibility of linked or follow-up attacks.
Unless the inhabitants of liberal societies are prepared to clamp down on the very freedoms which are their hallmark, a level of risk in daily life has to be accepted. Unticketed community gatherings, even if predictable, are much more difficult to protect completely in the absence of intelligence leads. Here lies the challenge. Over time UK intelligence agencies have built up a detailed domestic threat picture which guides prioritisation of effort—and the Agencies will still tell you that they cannot guarantee to stop all attacks. The UK has pursued “Prevent” strategies designed to foster good relations between police and local communities and to combat radicalisation with, so far, modest—but not negligible—results.
France has less favourable geography than our island nation; it has a much larger percentage of the population originating in Muslim countries and a higher number engaged in jihadist activity. The national threat picture will be bigger than that of the UK and is, I suspect, relatively less well developed. And, seen from outside, France does not appear to have focussed on the need to develop policies which convincingly incorporate minority groups in the national values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Whatever the current shortcomings of national policies however, it is obvious that there is a vital shared interest in Europeans helping each other to increase security.