Americans still reeling from the horrific attack in Orlando probably don’t know it, but Paris today is also staggered by another bloody terrorist killing: two police—an officer and his wife, who also worked for the police—were hacked to death late last night. The French are particularly stunned and outraged by the fact that the police couple were murdered in their own home—the husband stabbed to death—the wife’s neck slashed--in the presence of their three year old son, who survived.
Orlando and Paris are thousands of miles apart, but what is striking are some of the parallels between the two attackers. Though both claimed they were acting in the name of ISIS, they also both appeared to have carried out their vicious attacks on their own, on targets of their choosing.
They both had also been known to authorities. Indeed, most of the terrorist incidents in France over the past few years have been carried out by young people known to the police.
The current French assailant, Larossi Abballa, 25, had actually been arrested and imprisoned in 2013 for two and a half years, charged with being part of group that was infiltrating would-be jihadist fighters, linked to Afghanistan and Pakistan. After his release, authorities had kept an eye on him, but eventually decided he no longer represented a significant threat.
Why did they still not keep him on a tight watch list? Because the French have thousands of potential suspects like him—many of whom have been to Syria and Iraq.
And, as I mentioned in a previous blog, full time surveillance of just one individual requires 18-20 agents. There’s no way authorities can cope with the numbers.
France has already been living under a state of emergency since last November’s attacks. Thousands of homes have been searched; thousands of suspects picked up and questioned; hundreds arrested.
What more should the authorities do? Place everyone who might conceivably murder in the name of Isis in some kind of extra judicial detention and throw away the key? Erect a domestic Guantanamo?
Should there be a ban on automatic weapons? France already has one. A knife was good enough for Larossi Abballa to murder the two French cops.
French police and military are already stretched to the breaking point, guarding potential terrorist targets across France, investigating each new denunciation, not to mention handling the rampant strikes and demonstrations roiling this country, and providing security for the mammoth Euro football championship being held in six French cities. Now they have to worry about the security of their own homes.
Another parallel: Neither of the two killers in Paris and Orlando were regular members of radical mosques. Neither had ever been to Syria or Iraq, nor had any training with ISIS. (A few years ago, Larossi Abballa worked out with a few like-minded radicals in a Paris park.)
In these Internet days of Twitter, Facebook and You tube, such contact no longer necessary. Self-radicalization is the watchword. If Abballa needed to know how to slit some one’s throat, he could always watch a beheading on social media.
Indeed, Abballa posted to Facebook as he was carrying out his grisly crime.
What to do? Both the U.S. and France (and other European countries) face an enormous—almost existential--quandary. If the terrorist attacks persist —and they will—they will further empower the political harbingers of fear and hatred who already challenge the core, democratic values of each country.
What is startling however, is that, neither in France nor the U.S. in all the endless TV coverage and “expert” talking heads, in all the campaign speeches and tweets, is anyone addressing one of the major issues. That is, the problem is not just one of police resources, intelligence failures or flawed immigration laws, but foreign policy.
As I said, what particularly horrifies the French is that this attack took place at night, the police officers hacked to death not in their line of duty, as it were--but in the sanctity of their own home, in front of their three year old child.
According to French Television, ISIS apparently congratulated Larossi Abballa for his awful act. The deaths of the two police, said the declaration, were far more important than any deaths on the battlefield.
The fact is, that Isis and its unhinged supporters in the U.S. and France have managed to bring at least a taste to Americans and French of the terrible carnage that has been going on in the Greater Middle East for the past decades: markets and schools and public buildings blown apart, a region where people—some “guilty’ some innocent “collateral damage” meet death in their homes on a daily basis.
Let me be clear: this by no means justifies the Isis-inspired attacks. But, until the leaders and opinion makers and talking heads in the U.S. and France and their allies, are willing to recognize the extent to which their own massive intervention in the Greater Middle East is also responsible for the terrible situation we find ourselves in today--then, this long, downward spiral to God knows where will only continue its bloody way.