Islamic State has by no means disappeared after the fall of Mosul and Raqqa; it has become more dangerous, for numerous jihadists are carrying the terror farther afield.
The terrorist attack in New York, coming as it did after the tragedies in Nice, Berlin, Stockholm, Barcelona and Marseilles, bears witness to the persistent intensity of the jihadist threat to the great cities of the West.
This latest attack was in line with the change of direction taken by Islamic State in 2014, when it called on Moslems to kill infidels by any means and in any circumstances. The choice of Halloween was symbolic and targeted a maximum number of victims. The aim as always was to increase terror so as to trigger a dynamic leading to civil war.
The fall of Mosul and Raqqa was the final blow that put an end to Islamic State’s plan to set up a caliphate. But it has by no means disappeared. It is more dangerous than ever, for numerous jihadists have dispersed to take terror farther afield, beyond the Levant. Islamic State no longer has an army capable of operating on several fronts, but is redeploying with various types of modus operandi.
Firstly, suicide bombings in the Arab-Moslem world – in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Egypt. Secondly, guerilla warfare; in Asia – based in the caves of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, the island of Mindanao in the Philippines and the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh – and in Africa – in Libya, Nigeria and Madagascar. Thirdly, localized terrorism in the West, failing their ability to plan commando operations, as in Paris in November 2015.
This localized terrorism is infiltrating migrants and exiles as they travel, and is strengthened by the return of thousands of combatants and their families who are deserting the Levant. It is especially dangerous for Europe where over 50,000 radicalized Moslems live. France is being targeted for historical reasons, for its values, commitments, and its community of some 6 million Moslems.
The risk is further increased by the end of the state of emergency, which has been in force since 13th November 2013. There are legitimate reasons for deciding to end it, and an anti-terrorist law has been passed at the same time. But no one can forget that the attack in Nice on 14th July 2016 came just when François Hollande was about to announce the return to ordinary law – an announcement that was cancelled.
Because Islamic State has a polymorphous nature and is easily able to adapt, it needs a global, flexible and innovatory strategy to bring it down. One cannot fight terror by terror or by denial. The response must coordinate the indispensable – yet reasoned – use of armed force with the other tools of public action: the police, the judiciary, education, diplomacy and aid for development. It cannot just be confined to military and security measures; the whole of society must be mobilized.
Neither can it just be national; it requires close cooperation between European countries and between democracies. While there is no response in the offing that can compare to the Marshall Plan to contain the Soviet advance, it remains essential to finalize the eradication of Islamic State in the Levant and the Sahel and to come to an agreement over containment policies in Asia and Africa. At the same time, thought has to be given to the regulation and responsibilities of social networks.
The destabilization of the USA and the UK brought about by the rise of populism constitute both a risk and an opportunity for Europe. Action taken to protect urban centers and the coordination of intelligence services are the obvious bases for a Security Union. Its mission would be the fight against terrorism, effective control of external borders – especially in the Mediterranean – and the protection of vital infrastructures.
As for France, instead of endlessly strengthening its penal weaponry – which should only be modernized in as far as information technology is concerned – it must develop its strategic principles, its organizations and the operational aspects of the way it takes action.
It is obvious that, for many years, the Moslem community has been exposed to Salafism and that Islamism has strengthened its hold over numbers of young people. Certain malfunctions, which again came to light in the attack in Marseilles, show that it is urgent for security policies of the different public authorities to be more coherent. This can be obtained by creating a national security council directly responsible to the President and an operations command center for internal security, which would pilot all the aspects of the fight against terrorism on national territory. Furthermore, massive investment must be made in defense, policing and the judiciary, financed by savings on the welfare state, which sucks up 34% of GDP.
The best way for a democracy to lose a war is to wage war against its own values. Islam as a religion must be protected; Islamism as a deadly ideology must be annihilated. Without giving way to the hatred on which violence feeds. Without sacrificing freedom to security.
(Column published in Le Figaro, 6th November 2017)