Analysis: Nice attack shows France’s acute vulnerability to terrorism
By David Blair, Telegraph
15 July 2016 • 11:33am
When the self-styled “Islamic State” was still expanding across Syria and Iraq in 2014, its official spokesman singled out France for a chilling threat.
Abu Mohammed al-Adnani urged Muslims to “kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French”. He added that murder should be committed in “any manner”, saying: “Smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car.”
The motives of the 31-year-old man of Tunisian origin, who crushed 84 people to death beneath the wheels of his lorry in Nice, are not yet known. But he appears to have acted on the incitement to murder offered by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isil).
If so, this event provides further proof of France’s acute vulnerability to Islamist terrorism. That stems from several factors. The delicate truth is that France has the biggest Muslim minority in Europe, approaching 10 per cent of the population. That creates a larger pool within which a small minority can be radicalised.
In absolute numbers, France has provided more foreign fighters for Isil in Syria than any other European country, although it is not yet known whether the Nice attacker had any links to the country.
In addition, France is part of the Schengen area, meaning that its borders with the European continent are open. Unlike Britain – which has always retained its frontier controls and has the natural advantage of being an island – France can do little to prevent the flow of suspected terrorists or weapons into its territory.
Some of the terrorists who planned and executed the gun and bomb attacks in Paris last November were actually based in Brussels. They were able to take advantage of the ease of movement between the two capitals.
Finally, there is evidence that France’s intelligence agencies and security services are overwhelmed by the scale of the threat. Monitoring thousands of suspects is exceptionally labour intensive.
The good news is that France managed to get through the Euro 2016 football championship without a terrorist attack. That fact alone is testimony to the professionalism of its security forces. The government had planned to lift the state of emergency that has been in place since the Paris massacre.
But the tragedy in Nice shows that any country which holds free celebrations and public gatherings – in other words, any democracy in the world – is inherently vulnerable to lone and murderous fanatics.