More than 1,000 soldiers have been deployed on the streets of France for Christmas after a spate of suspected festive-season terrorist attacks across the nation have left many French citizens critical of the government’s denialism, and fearful of increasing violence.
The move stands in contrast to the official line of the French government that the attacks, in which the assailants were reported in all cases to have shouted the Arabic salutation “Allahu Akbar” as they commenced their rampages, had nothing to do with terrorism, and were completely unrelated. The government has come under fire from opposition parties for its denial of a terrorism link, with French social media users reportedly cheering on the straight-talking rejection by the Front National (FN).
The Times reports the comments of FN deputy leader Florian Philippot which have apparently got social media users excited: “This is obviously terrorism… I wish they would stop playing politics and ideology, telling us that there are systematically isolated acts by disturbed people”. France has the largest Muslim population of any Western European nation, and the FN believes the government is reluctant to say anything that could antagonise the millions of Muslims settled in the country.
Many of the large, suburban communities are known for their exceptional violence during the new year celebrations, indulging in mass car-burnings and rioting are predominantly Muslim. The French government euphemistically designates these areas “Sensitive Urban Zones” and earmarks them for special policing and spending programmes, but to ordinary Frenchmen they are better known as “no-go zones”, where emergency services dare not tread.
After the attacks of the past few days, which included a French-Burundian Muslim convert entering a police-station with a knife and attacking officers, and two ram-raid attacks with cars against street crowds, the French Prime Minister Manuel Valls addressed the nation on live television. He said: “The number of patrols will be increased during this [Christmas] period. 200 to 300 extra soldiers will be deployed in the coming hours”. These extra troops, who patrol the streets with fully-automatic assault rifles, will augment 780 already on patrol.
The attacks have highlighted the difficulty of pre-empting lone-wolf style attacks, and the frightening speed in which radicalisation can take place. The mother of police station knife attacker Muslim convert Nzohabonayo has reported her son only started taking an interest in religion, and wearing traditional Islamic clothes a week before the attack.