Attacker in Nice had support of several people, French prosecutors say

The Wall Street Journal reports: The man who killed 84 people in Nice on Bastille Day had the support of several people and appeared to have been plotting his attack since last year, French prosecutors said Thursday.

Paris prosecutor François Molins said he asked a judge to place five people under investigation on preliminary terrorism charges. The five are in police custody.

“The investigation has not only provided more confirmation of the premeditation of the murderous attack of Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, but also establish that he had support and complicity in preparation of his criminal act,” Mr. Molins said.

Meanwhile, antiterror police conducted raids in a Paris suburb on Thursday, police officers said, as France attempts to sweep up weapons and people suspected of links to terrorism networks after the July 14 attack in Nice.

Police locked down a neighborhood in Argenteuil, a suburb 7 miles northwest of Paris, as they raided three sites, searching for weapons and explosives, one police officer said. Around 20 people were detained in the raids, another said. [Continue reading…]


Jihad and the French exception

Farhad Khosrokhavar writes: Whether Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who killed more than 80 people during Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, was an agent of the Islamic State or an unhinged loner who borrowed the group’s jihadist symbols, the slaughter raises the same fundamental question: Why do so many more attacks of this magnitude occur in France than in other European countries?

Belgium has also been hit recently, but less often. In Britain and Spain no terrorist attack has killed more than 10 people in over a decade. In Germany, there hasn’t been a major attack at all.

Failures in the French security and intelligence services cannot account for the difference, because communication problems afflict such services throughout Europe. The answer lies elsewhere: When it comes to jihad, too, there is a French exception.

France’s distinctiveness arises in part from the ideological strength of the idea the nation has had of itself since the French Revolution, including an assertive form of republicanism and an open distrust of all religions, beginning, historically, with Catholicism. This model has been knocked around over the years, first by decolonization, then by decades of economic hardship, the growing stigmatization of cultural differences, the fervent individualism of new generations and globalization, which has narrowed the state’s room for maneuver.

Above all, France hasn’t been able to solve the problem of economic and social exclusion. Its system, which is too protective of those people who have jobs and not open enough to those who don’t, breeds angst all around. Young people in the banlieues, marginalized and with few prospects, feel like victims. They become prime targets for jihadist propaganda, often after a stint in prison for petty crimes. [Continue reading…]


Nice attacker had fascination with extreme violence

The Wall Street Journal reports: The man who killed 84 people in Nice was a violent drinker and drug taker with an “unbridled sex life” who developed a fascination with Islamic State and other terrorist propaganda, prosecutors said as they deepened their probe into whether a broader network fostered his radicalization.

François Molins, the chief Paris prosecutor overseeing the investigation into the Bastille Day attack, said Monday that police haven’t found any evidence that Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel explicitly pledged allegiance to Islamic State or had links to any people associated with the Sunni Muslim militant group.

However, the prosecutor painted a picture of a man who underwent a rapid transformation in the weeks leading up the massacre and became suddenly enthralled with extremist messages and ultra-violent images.

Data recovered from Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s computer included pictures of militants draped in Islamic State flags and corpses as well as photos of Osama bin Laden and Mokhtar Belmokhtar, the head of an al Qaeda-aligned group called Murabitun. His computer also turned up searches for “horrible car accidents” and “shock videos,” Mr. Molins said. [Continue reading…]


Police and academics search Nice attacker’s history for a motive

Jason Burke writes: Lahouaiej-Bouhlel certainly matches the classic profile of French violent Islamic extremist in many ways – though he is a relatively recent arrival rather than born in the country of immigrant parents, as is more usually the case. He was a young, male petty criminal. He was also not devout, all witnesses so far agree. He did not fast during Ramadan, ate pork, drank, and was never seen at any local mosque.

This lack of piety among militants may seem confusing. It is, however, the rule rather than the exception. It was true of the dozen or so French and Belgian young men involved in bombings and shootings earlier this year, and of Mohammed Merah, who committed the first major attack in France in 2012. Other examples beyond France include that of Omar Mateen, who killed 49 in a Florida nightclub last month.

This apparent paradox has prompted a keen debate among experts. The argument has major policy implications. In France, it has been bitter. Olivier Roy, a well-known French scholar currently at the University of Europe in Florence, suggests those drawn into violent activism are already “in nihilist, generational revolt”. This is why so many are criminals, or marginal. Extremist Islam gives them a cause and frames anger and alienation in the way extremist leftwing ideologies did for some in the 1960s and 1970s. The new militants are thus not victims of “brainwashing” by cynical and fanatical recruiters. This is the Islamisation of radicalism, Roy says, not the radicalisation of Islam.

Many disagree. Some say Roy naively ignores the impact of intolerant and reactionary doctrines on Muslim communities in the west. Others suggest he underestimates the historical impact of western colonialism as well as that of more recent western policies in the Middle East. [Continue reading…]


Nice attacker was radicalised within months and sent £84,000 to his Tunisian family days before attack

The Telegraph reports: he terrorist behind the Bastille Day atrocity was radicalised within months and sent his Tunisian family £84,000 just days before the massacre, it was claimed on Saturday.

Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel’s brother in Tunisia described receiving the fortune in cash as police swooped to arrest five suspected associates across the city of Nice

The French interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, said the attacker “appears to have become radicalised very quickly” as one neighbour of his estranged wife added: “Mohamed only started visiting a mosque in April.”

Investigators examining Bouhlel’s phone records found evidence that he was in contact with known Islamic radicals.

However, an intelligence source cautioned: “That could just be a coincidence, given the neighbourhood where he lived. Everyone knows everyone there. He seems to have known people who knew Omar Diaby (a known local Islamist believed to be linked with the Al Nusra group close to Al Qaeda).”

Relatives have reportedly claimed Bouhlel, in the days before the attack, persuaded friends to smuggle the bundles of cash back to his family in their hometown of Msaken, Tunisia.

His brother Jaber also said he had not seen his brother for several years and the money had come as a complete surprise. [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports: The Tunisian delivery driver who killed 84 people on Thursday when he drove a truck at high-speed into a crowd watching Bastille Day fireworks in Nice sent a text message just before the attack about his supply of weapons.

Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, 31, wrote of his “satisfaction at having obtained a 7.65mm pistol” and discussed “the supply of other weapons,” a police source confirmed to AFP. Two replica assault rifles and a dummy grenade were also found in the truck.

It also emerged that Lahouaiej-Bouhlel took pictures of himself at the wheel of the truck before the fatal attack, and shared them by text message. Over 200 investigators are working on identifying the recipients of the messages. [Continue reading…]


How ISIS is getting beaten at home — and taking terror abroad

Mark Perry writes: Just 24 hours after a Tunisian-born French citizen killed more than 80 people in Nice, President Obama is coming under fire from critics for “fiddling around” against the Islamic State, as former CIA Director James Woolsey said on Thursday night on MSNBC. While it isn’t yet clear whether the Nice attack was ISIS-ordered or inspired, Woolsey questioned Obama’s commitment to destroying the jihadist group, saying “we haven’t taken the gloves off.”

In fact, according to several senior serving and retired military officers, Woolsey has it wrong. “ISIS is reeling and their fighters are fleeing the battlefield,” a senior officer of the U.S. Central Command (Centcom), told me last week. “We don’t have a victory yet, but we’re winning and it’s not even close. The campaign is absolutely relentless, very violent. We’re killing a lot of their people. That’s a fact, and it’s undeniable.” In recent weeks Iraqi forces have taken back the city of Fallujah and regained control of key positions near the city of Mosul.

Unfortunately, this same officer says, the success of the anti-ISIS, U.S.-led air campaign is having some unintended, but predictable, consequences. One of them is the increasing vulnerability of European countries, particularly those (like France) that are participants in the air campaign. [Continue reading…]


Who was Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, the French-Tunisian suspect behind the Nice attack?



Why does France keep getting attacked?

Jason Burke writes: So once again, there will be the tricolour flag projected on buildings around the world, a hashtag expressing solidarity with France, and declarations of sympathy.

There will also be the question: why is France suffering a wave of extremist violence that is more intense – certainly more lethal – than any other seen in the west since the 9/11 attacks almost 15 years ago?

Though it is still unclear if the driver of the truck in Nice was linked to any broader network or organisation – prosecutors on Friday said only that his actions were in line with an Isis call to action – his attack is a grim reminder of the bloodshed on Paris just months ago.

One reason that France is a particular target is down to a specific decision by Islamic State to target it. In September 2014, shortly after the beginning of airstrikes by a US-led coalition which includes France, the chief spokesman for Isis, Mohammad al-Adnani, singled out the “spiteful French” among a list of enemies in a speech calling for the group’s sympathisers to launch attacks across the west.

Undoubtedly, the role France has historically assumed as standard bearer of western secular liberalism has also put the nation in the spotlight. Islamic extremists may see the US as a source of moral decadence and economic exploitation, but France is seen as an atheist power which is both defending western ideals such as human rights, free speech and democracy and, in the eyes of jihadis, trying to impose them on the Islamic world.

We know from interrogations of Isis returnees that the group started planning strikes in France even before it seized the Iraqi city of Mosul and declared a caliphate in 2014. [Continue reading…]


After invoking Article 50, UK could still rescind notice to withdraw from EU, say French legal sources

The Guardian reports: [At a] hearing of the Treasury select committee, leading constitutional lawyers revealed that the French government legal service has informed the French government that the UK would be entitled to rescind a notice to withdraw even though it had invoked article 50.

Such flexibility would mean that even if it was triggered, the UK could reverse a decision to withdraw, if either parliament or a second referendum endorsed the step.

Michael Dougan, professor of European law at Liverpool University, also pointed out that any UK application to join Norway as a signatory to the European economic area (EEA) agreement – a means of maintaining access to the EU single market – could be vetoed by any single one of the remaining 27 EU member states, the four members of the European free trade area (Efta) and the European parliament, meaning 31 different institutions or states could block the UK signing the EEA.

The EEA is seen by some as the best stopping off point for the UK, since it retains UK access to the EU single market, but all EEA members are required to apply the principle of the free movement of people. [Continue reading…]


UK free movement deal possible, hints French presidential favourite

The Guardian reports: Alain Juppé, the frontrunner in next year’s French presidential elections, is to visit London and has suggested a deal may be possible on free movement of workers that will allow the UK access to the single market.

Juppé is quoted in the Financial Times as saying the issue is up for negotiation. The politician from the mainstream French right will visit London on Monday and is certain to be pressed to give a fuller explanation about how much flexibility of movement he envisages. His remarks do not tally with the position of either the European commission or the German or French governments.

Juppé is also expected to seek assurances about the status of French citizens living in the UK after the frontrunner for the Tory leadership, Theresa May, said the status of existing EU migrants would be a factor in any negotiations on the terms of a British withdrawal from the EU.

Her remarks were supported by the foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, who said it would be absurd to give assurances on the status of EU citizens in the UK before similar assurances came from the EU about UK citizens. Hammond has been a leading UK voice arguing for a trade-off in talks between access to the single market and free movement of EU citizens.

The EU is uneasy about giving the UK any concessions on free movement since it is likely to lead to calls for similar treatment from other nationalist politicians in Europe.

The EU has been refusing any concessions for the Swiss on free movement despite a referendum in 2014 insisting the government impose immigration controls. Switzerland is wary of losing access to the European single market, and may have to hold a second referendum if no deal is offered by the EU. [Continue reading…]


Time to reimagine Europe

Mary Fitzgerald writes: My daughter is three and my son is nine weeks old and from time to time ­– in the evenings when I can stay awake long enough – I write a diary for them that I hope they’ll read as adults. As well as documenting their first smiles, steps, jokes and nightmares (‘the wicked witch stole my snot rag!’), I’m trying to bring to life some of what’s happening in the world outside their home. And so I’ve been asking myself how to convey the events of the last few weeks to people reading about them in 20 years time.

In the end, 16 million Britons voted to stay in the European Union. Over 17 million voted to leave. It’s complicated, but both official campaigns primarily fed off and stoked fear: fear of economic collapse on the one hand, fear of immigration on the other. Across the mass media we heard little from those trying to advance more positive arguments: the idea of European/global citizenship on one side, of what ‘more democracy’ would mean on the other.

Whether you’re angry about the troika’s treatment of Greece or you want tighter immigration controls, the bloated, unaccountable, elitist EU can be blamed…

On openDemocracy, as always, we’ve tried to give space to perspectives sidelined or ignored elsewhere. During the lead up to the vote, we brought European voices into an alarmingly parochial national conversation. We asked if another Europe is possible and what a post-xenophobic politics would look like. In the wake of the result, we’ve featured the views of readers from the north of England to Kazakhstan, and profiled different reader voices on the future of the UK Labour party. We’ve asked what happens to EU migrant workers, to Scotland and to the entire continent. And we’ve challenged the idea that Leave voters didn’t know what they were doing – a dangerous and condescending attitutude which risks learning nothing from the result. Meanwhile Anthony Barnett’s Herculean ‘Blimey it could be Brexit!’, a magnificent book written ‘live’ one chapter a week during the referendum campaign, is a precious gift to those trying to dig deeper into what it all means both now and in the future. 

I first drafted this article on the assumption that Remain would win, narrowly, and I warned against complacency and urged democratic reform of the EU. The fact that I was wrong about the result only reinforces those arguments. France chooses a new president in less than a year and the majority of opinion polls predict the Front National’s Marine Le Pen comfortably winning enough votes to be one of the final two candidates. The Brexit result is a gift for her, in a country where anti-EU sentiment is even higher than in the UK. Germans will also vote for a new government within the year, with the right-wing anti-EU Alternative for Deutschland rapidly gaining ground. The warning signals have been growing louder for years, with the far-right candidate Norbert Hofer’s narrow defeat in Austria’s presidential election yet another recent close call. On the right and the left, whether you’re angry about the troika’s treatment of Greece or you want tighter immigration controls, the bloated, unaccountable, elitist EU can be blamed.

Perhaps when the citizens of other European countries see the political and economic turmoil visited upon the UK, and watch the leaders who urged Brexit in short order failing to deliver on their promises, the idea of leaving the EU may start to look less appealing. But while many of the underlying causes of their discontent remain, such an effect is likely to be minimal.

Either way, a quick second vote or some other procedural or legal gymnastics to bypass Britain’s referendum result would be a big mistake. [Continue reading…]


Brexit aftershocks: An inside look at the EU’s raging power struggle

Der Spiegel reports: For the last supper, quail salad is served. It’s 7:30 on Tuesday evening, and the leaders of 27 European Union countries — without British Prime Minister David Cameron — are scheduled to meet the next morning. A whiff of nostalgia is in the air, even if everyone is angry with Cameron, who because of a power struggle in his party, didn’t just gamble away his country’s EU membership, but may ultimately have triggered a political meltdown in the proud United Kingdom.

Cameron is buoyant, doing his best to avoid appearing as the tragic figure he has now become. His counterparts from across the EU are tactful enough to keep quiet about what they really think of the outgoing British premier. They speak of Britain’s historical accomplishments — at a time when the country, after 40 years of EU membership, looks to be leaving the bloc.

Taavi Roivas, the youthful prime minister of Estonia, who always sat next to Cameron during European Council meetings, expresses his gratitude that British soldiers ensured his country’s independence 100 years ago. French President François Hollande recalls how British and French soldiers fought side-by-side in World War I. The Irish prime minister notes that his country was at war with England for almost 1,000 years and that it was really only the EU that brought lasting peace.

And what about Cameron? He says that he wouldn’t do anything differently if he had it all to do over again. It wasn’t a mistake to hold the referendum, he tells the bewildered gathering, but the EU leaders refrain from contradicting him. Perhaps one important element of the European project is that it is no longer seen as necessary to respond to every folly. Only at the very end of the evening, when an EU diplomat is asked whether Cameron was presented with a departing gift, did he answer laconically: “He got a warm meal.”

By the next morning, no one is thinking of Cameron anymore. He made history, if involuntarily, but history has now moved on from the British prime minister. The vote in favor of Brexit, after all, hasn’t just convulsed British politics, it has also set the stage for the next monumental power struggle within the EU.

On one hand, that struggle is about the question as to how uncompromising the EU should be in hustling Britain out of the union. For those in favor of a strong and powerful EU, for those who always saw the UK as a bothersome obstacle in their path, the British withdrawal process can’t proceed fast enough. Plus, French President Hollande and others want to use Britain as an example to show the rest of Europe how bleak and uncomfortable life can be when one leaves the house of Europe. Hollande, of course, has good reason for his approach: The right-wing populist party Front National has threatened to follow Cameron’s example should party leader Marine Le Pen emerge victorious in next year’s presidential elections. [Continue reading…]