Five years after a group of jihadist assassins carried out France’s deadliest atrocity in peacetime, the country is once again on its highest security alert after a series of attacks accused of Islamist radicals.
At the November 13, 2015 massacre, 130 people were killed and 350 injured when Islamist suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the Stade de France stadium, bars and restaurants in central Paris and the Bataclan concert hall.
The great horror of the attacks, claimed by extremists from the IS group, left scars that still have not healed.
The security threat to France has not diminished, security sources say, although the nature of the risk has changed with attackers who are more likely to be lone extremists inspired by a deadly ideology than part of an organized group.
Friday’s anniversary comes with France still plagued by three attacks in recent weeks: a knife attack outside Charlie Hebdo’s former office every week, the beheading of a teacher and a fatal stabbing at a nice church.
“You may think the threat has disappeared into the background when other problems arose,” a French security source, who asked not to be named, told AFP.
“But in reality, the figures show that it has been high since 2015.”
In the last five years, 20 attacks have been carried out on French soil, 19 plots have failed and 61 have been persecuted.
There has been a growing trend of attacks carried out by isolated individuals, previously unknown to the intelligence services, who are inspired by jihadist propaganda and carry out attacks with cold weapons that need little preparation.
But the threat of an attack planned outside France – which was the case on November 13, 2015 – remains serious.
“Just because [the IS group] has suffered a military defeat does not mean that its military capabilities have been destroyed, says a French official involved in the fight against terrorism, who asked not to be appointed.
Between 100 and 200 French jihadists are still believed to be in the former IS group’s strongholds in northern Iraq and Syria, and it would be an “illusion” to believe that they were not able to secretly return to France, the official added.
In January 2015, Islamist armed personnel massacred at Charlie Hebdo’s satirical weekly, claiming that they avenged the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.
Despite its defiant reputation, the newspaper published the cartoons to mark the start of the trial of suspected accomplices in the murders in September.
In the wake of this move, a Pakistani-born man injured two people with a meat splitter on September 25 outside Charlie Hebdo’s former office.
Teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown the drawings in his class, was beheaded outside his school on October 16 by an Islamist radical from Chechnya. And on October 29, a Tunisian man recently killed three people with a knife in a church in Nice.
The attack opened painful debates in France over the integration of the country’s Muslim population – the largest in Europe – and also prompted tougher rhetoric from President Emmanuel Macron against radical Islamism.
In turn, Macron’s defiant stance sparked a wave of protests in some Muslim countries and called for a boycott of French goods.
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The security source quoted by AFP said the terrorist threat was higher in connection with the current Charlie Hebdo trial and a new trial against the Paris attacks, which will open at the beginning of next year.
These hearings hold up “a kind of background noise” with the risk of “support measures for those” facing trial, the security source said.
The 2021 trial of the Paris attacks will only see one of the suspected perpetrators in the bridge – the French-Belgian Salah Abdeslam.
Nineteen other suspects accused of providing various logistical support will face him, although five are believed to be dead in Iraq or Syria will be tried in absentia.
The suspected coordinator of the attacks – Belgian Abdelhamid Abaaoud who fired indiscriminately on packed café terraces that night – was killed five days later in a police attack on the Paris suburb of Saint Denis.
( Jowharwith AFP)