A terrorist drove a truck into a crowd along Nice’s spectacular Promenade des Anglais, where thousands had gathered to watch fireworks commemorating Bastille Day. Reportedly, the terrorist also shot at the crowd before police shot and killed him. Approximately 80 people are believed to be dead, a number that likely will rise. Many others are wounded.
My wife has two cousins who were in Nice today. One, an elderly woman, was safely in her nearby apartment (my wife talked to her about an hour before the attack). We have no reason to believe that the other, who is late middle age, was at the fireworks and no indication that she was harmed. However, we have not heard from her.
The terrorist reportedly is a 31 year-old man of Tunisian origin who resided in Nice (as with other reports at this stage of the incident, this one may prove to be untrue). It’s not known whether he had accomplices. However, his truck reportedly contained heavy weapons including grenades.
Given what I understand to be the difficulty of obtaining such armaments in France, it isn’t unreasonable to think he may have had the backing of others and may have been connected to a network. This is speculation, though.
France has now experienced three major sets of terrorist attacks in a year and a half. There is no end in sight because of two key policy decisions: (1) the French government’s immigration policy over the years and (2) President Obama’s decision not to crush ISIS early on, and instead to regard it as a harmless “jayvee.”
The effects of these decisions cannot be reversed in the near future. France’s population is now approaching 10 percent Muslim. There will not be a large-scale deportation of Muslims, nor should there be. But a significant number of French Muslims hate France and are inspired to wage jihad against it.
They are inspired to a significant degree by the success of ISIS (and this is true whether they belong to ISIS or not). Before its rise, some groups were calling for acts of terrorism in the West — in fact, one al Qaeda affiliated group called for jihadists to attack pedestrians with trucks in just the way the terrorist did in Nice — but Muslims weren’t carrying them out in the West on a regular basis.
Now, they are. I don’t think it’s a coincidence.
ISIS can be defeated militarily in Iraq and Syria, and we should go about the task with considerably more urgency than President Obama has displayed. But at this late date, a military defeat in the Middle East isn’t likely to put the poison back in the bottle.
ISIS’s adherents and others inspired by ISIS in the West, which is now regarded as part of the battlefield, probably will continue the struggle for a long while regardless of what happens in Iraq and Syria. If anything, we might reasonably expect a spike in terrorism in the West if ISIS approaches the brink of defeat on the traditional battlefield.
Therefore, however much offense we play against ISIS, we’re also going to have to play plenty of defense for the foreseeable future.
France doesn’t seem to be playing defense well. Reportedly, the French government was considering lowering the stated level of the terrorism threat because both Euro 2016 and Ramadan have ended.
If so, the government was terribly naive. This is war, and war isn’t scheduled around soccer tournaments and religious holidays.
Moreover, regardless of the perceived level of the terrorist threat, it’s not clear why a huge truck full of arms (if reports are true) was able to make its way down what appeared to be a street closed off to vehicles during a massive festival on France’s big holiday. I admit, though, that this criticism may be premature. We are far from knowing all of the relevant facts.
Is the U.S. government playing better defense than its French counterpart? Are we any less naive? There’s room for doubt.
UPDATE: My wife’s cousin was at the fireworks and witnessed the massacre up close, but wasn’t injured.
She is Israeli. Her Israeli son also had something of a near miss experience with terrorism in France. As I wrote at the time, my wife has numerous cousins living in Israel. I don’t recall hearing that any of them ever had a close a brush with deadly terrorism other than during military service, though some may have.
Benjamim Netanyahu was spot on when, in August 2014, he publicly warned that terrorism “will come to France.”