Fred Lancelot / Reuters A woman kneels near candles at the Place du Capitole in Toulouse, France, November 17, 2015.

France's Perpetual Battle Against Terrorism

The Paris Attacks in Context

Last Friday night’s simultaneous terror attacks on Paris served as a stark reminder of the threat the self-proclaimed Islamic State (also known as ISIS) poses to the West. At present, 132 are confirmed to be dead, and ISIS has warned that France was “just the beginning of the storm.” Ominous as that may be, however, France has been under sustained assault from Islamist terrorists for the last 12 months, even if the threat has gone largely unnoticed by the public. Although most of the attacks have been thwarted, their frequency—and the ways in which the French state has uncovered them—is alarming.

ISIS spoke of France back in September 2014, when group spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani proclaimed to his listeners that “if you can kill an American or European infidel, especially the spiteful and cursed French, kill them in any way possible.” The response to this call was rapid: in December 2014, Bertrand Nzohabonayo attacked three police officers with a knife in Joué-lès-Tours and was shot and killed. Nzohabonayo had uploaded an ISIS flag to his Facebook account shortly before.

Weeks later, Said and Cherif Kouachi, two brothers who had been trained by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, murdered 12 staff members during an attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine’s headquarters in Paris. These particular strikes were not explicitly linked to ISIS, but the next ones were. Over a two-day period in January 2015, Amedy Coulibaly, one of Cherif Kouachi’s associates, killed five people in Paris. He had pledged loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

A man walks past a giant mural with the City of Paris motto

A man walks past a giant mural with the City of Paris motto "Fluctuat Nec Mergitur", Latin for "buffeted (by waves) but not sunk", in Paris, France, November 17, 2015

More was to follow. In April 2015, Sid Ahmed Ghlam allegedly planned to kill Parisian churchgoers and is suspected of having murdered a gym instructor during an attempt to steal her car. Ghlam’s plans were thwarted only when he accidentally shot himself in the leg and was forced to call an ambulance. Three months later, a heavily armed Ayoub el-Khazzani attacked a train heading to Paris from Amsterdam, only to be restrained by Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a key figure in terror networks with ties to ISIS in Syria. Abaaoud was also linked to the ISIS cell operating in Verviers, Belgium, that was disrupted in January 2015. 

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