Former president Nicolas Sarkozy is among French politicians who have both questioned the long-standing multicultural of the country and for the government’s apparent failure to halt terrorist attacks. Sarkozy, who was known for tough police measures against rioters of North African and Muslim origin in Paris during his tenure, appears to go even farther than those suggested by American presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Following the deadly attack in Nice as revelers celebrated Bastille Day last week, Sarkozy said on French television, "Democracy must not be weak, nor simply commemorate. Democracy must say 'We will win the war'." At least 10 children were killed, in addition to tourists from Ukraine, Switzerland, Germany, Russia, the United States, and other countries. Dozens of people are still being treated in hospitals, while 19 of them in critical condition. At least a dozen of the dead are unidentified.
According to law enforcement officials on July 18, the 31-year-old Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who drove a truck to topple over and crush his victims during a Bastille Day fireworks display in Nice, had shown "recent interest" in jihadist activity. Since the attack, the Islamic State has claimed credit for inspiring the attack that killed 84 people and injured more than 100. Paris prosecutor Francois Molins claimed that there was no evidence that Bouhlel was sworn to the Islamic State but did say that a forensic search of his computer revealed “a clear, recent interest for the radical jihadist movement." Molins verified that the attack was “premeditated.”
For two weeks before carrying out his rampage, Bouhlel performed near-daily internet searches for Islamic State propaganda videos and readings from the Koran, Molins said. Bouhlel, who had three children, also sought information on the attack at a nightclub in Orlando where dozens of people were shot to death by a Muslim terrorist, as well as an attack on Magnanville -- a suburb of Paris where a Muslim terrorist affiliated to the Islamic State murdered two police officers who were husband and wife. Bouhlel’s computer also had photos of ISIS combatants posing with the black flag of militant Islam, as well as the corpses of their victims.
Six people are being interrogated by the police, including a 38-year-old Albanian suspected of providing Bouhlel with a pistol he used to fire at the police who shot him dead. Bouhlel reportedly had explosives and other weapons in the cab of the truck he drove.
A throng of people went to the seafront in Nice to hear the Catholic cathedral’s bell toll in remembrance of the victims after the crowd was led in a minute of solemn silence. Observers noted the significance of holding the memorial in front of a church as signalling an admission by the thoroughly secular government that France is rooted in Christianity and the Western tradition. Throughout France, similar ceremonies were held to the accompaniment of church bells: a practice forbidden by Islam.
Emotions are running high in France. Prime Minister Manuel Valls and two of his ministers, for example, endured a humiliating chorus heckling and catcalls when he attended a memorial for the victims on July 18 in Nice. Some of the mourners at the memorial shouted to the Socialist Valls and companions, “Murderers!” and “Resign!” Valls was unmoved, saying that the “disgraceful” display of opposition merely reflected the "attitude of a minority" in Nice, which is governed by the opposition Republicans party.
The Nice attack came eight months after ISIS jihadists killed 130 people across Paris, and 18 months after three days of terror at the Charlie Hebdo weekly and a Jewish supermarket killed 17.
Unlike the perpetrators of the attacks by ISIS jihadis in Paris that claimed the lives of 130 people and another 17 in a separate attack, Bouhlel had not traveled to the Middle East for military or terrorist training. According to prosecutors, Bouhlel was a petty criminal with a history of violence and depression, while his acquaintances described the Tunisian as "someone who did not practise the Muslim religion, ate pork, drank alcohol, took drugs and had an unbridled sexual activity."
However, approximately eight months ago, Bouhlel recorded a picture of a newspaper story bearing the headline: "Man deliberately rams car into cafe terrace." It is a tactic that has been used repeatedly by Muslim terrorists in Israel, who have not taken recourse to firearms. As of the beginning of July, Bouhlel stopped shaving his beard.
In the past, terrorist attacks in France have engendered tremendous displays of patriotic unity. However, no such unity was displayed after the massacre in Nice, which came just nine months before both presidential and legislative elections. Former president Sarkozy saw an opportunity to make political points in the aftermath. Expressing his disgust with the government under President Francois Hollande, a Socialist, Sarkozy said, "Everything that should have been done in the past 18 months was not done." Sarkozy is seeking to return to his former role as president. Calling for the deportation of foreign-born terror suspects, Sarkozy told TF1 television: "We are at war, outright war. So I will use strong words: it will be us or them."
National Front party leader Marine Le Pen accused governments of the left and right of "grave mistakes" for "continuing to allow so many foreigners into France."
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve defended his government’s actions against terrorism, and pointed out measures such as stepped-up military security and the adoption of new anti-terror laws. "There is no zero risk. By saying this we are telling the truth to the French and tackling the threat with lucidity," he said, accusing the opposition of using the attack for "shameful" point-scoring.
Today, the French parliament will vote on extending the state of emergency imposed after the November attacks. The military is calling up volunteer reservists to supplement the strained security forces.