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Published On: Wed, Jan 14th, 2015

France’s robust response to terror

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France-newspaper-attackLast week, Wednesday, Jan. 8, all hell broke lost at the premises of one of France’s leading satirical newspapers, Charlie Hebdo. Gunmen broke into its editorial office and opened fire. By the time they were done, 12 persons, including editorial staff, lay dead. The assailants were later identified as two brothers, Cheriff and Said Kouachi. France, the homeland of Dennis Diderot, a consummate political satirist and philosopher, where political pun is freely poked, without let or hindrance, was shocked, to say the least, by the brutal terror attack. The peak of the week’s ugly events was reached two days later when Ahmed Coulibaly attacked and took hostages at a kosher supermarket in down town Paris. He had earlier killed a police woman at a different location. In the supermarket he killed four of the hostages before the security forces killed him.

Both Kouachi brothers and Coulibaly were extremist radical Islamists with ties to the al Qaeda in Yemen and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Coulibaly’s girlfriend, an accomplice in the bloody attacks, had earlier slipped out of France and was sighted in Turkey. Turkish authorities confirmed that she had crossed over to ISIS-held territory in Syria. Within a short span of three days, 17 persons were brutally murdered in France’s worst terrorist attacks for years.

The weekend following the massacres, French president, Mr. Francois Hollande hosted world leaders to a solidarity march in Paris against terrorism. One aspect of the whole saga that has implications for nations confronted with similar terror threats is the quick and robust response of the French security services. As news of the Charlie Hebdo massacre broke, the French security forces quickly mobilized and mounted a manhunt for the attackers, resulting in an exchange of gun fire at a factory outside Paris where the two Kouachi brothers were holed up. They never made it out alive. Couliablywas also killed in the supermarket where took some shoppers as hostages.

To confront these latest terror attacks, France mobilized 10,000 troops to protect sensitive sites, including Jewish schools and neighbourhoods. Specifically, 4,700 security personnel have been assigned to protect 717 Jewish schools. Prime Minister Finmanuel Vallswarned that the danger of further attacks was ever present. The attackers were reported to belong to an extremist cell of ten persons, which means that some are roaming freely in the French capital. .

As usual, the West is horrified by the carnage especially as it was perpetrated by immigrants. In Germany, huge anti-immigration demonstrations with anti-Muslim rhetoric are been staged by neo-Nazi groups which have always denounced multiculturalism. However, as it is likely that fingers easily would wag at immigrants, we warn against generalization. We note that a good number of immigrants, notably African immigrants, have contributed enormously to what is generally considered the high standard of Western civilization.

The important lesson of the Paris saga, to us at Peoples Daily, is the dispatch with which the French authorities responded. The quick response disabled the terrorists. Also the mobilization of security forces to important public places like schools and shopping malls would boost public confidence. So far, no traffic draw-down has been reported in Paris as residents continue their normal lives, even as the security forces are at an all time high alert.

Contrast the French experience with the ease with which Boko Haram terrorists choose their targets, attack and quickly melt away only to resurface elsewhere. Even as we understand that the facilities and training available to the French forces may not be available here, there are key lessons to learn, especially how to manage terrorist attacks without significantly disrupting normal life. The main aim of terror is to plant panic in people and disrupt normal life.


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