PARIS — Arnaud Danjean, member of the European Parliament for the French opposition party Les Républicains, spoke to Les Échos about the aftermath of the Nice attack and France's ongoing fight against terrorism.
Les Échos: Every attack evokes a feeling of powerlessness, especially in the wake of one as “low-cost” as the one in Nice, perpetrated by a man not known to security services. Is there really nothing we can do?
Arnaud Danjean: Unfortunately we aren't invulnerable, and it's always easy in hindsight to say what should've been done. It's essential that we take a closer look at every moment in the attacks to try and learn from what happened, so we can improve our response in the future. While we can't expect to be infallible, we also mustn't take a fatalist, naive, or wait-and-see approach to these threats.
I also see a considerable gap between the warlike statements of French authorities after last year's Charlie Hebdo shootings — saying that “we're at war,” at a maximum threat level, which is true — and the actions they've taken to prevent new attacks. It's clear our security forces don't have the budget, resources, and manpower they need to do their job. There's a plan to increase recruitment but it isn't fully operational yet. We must enhance the presence of our intelligence services at the local level and integrate them with the gendarmerie, which under French law can currently only operate at the “second circle” of intelligence — not directly with the national intelligence services.
We should improve the working relationship and communications between our existing organizations, and give more prominence to the role of national intelligence coordinator by employing a security professional in the position. The General Directorate for Internal Security (DSGI) should also be put in charge of these operations.
Should we expect to see heavily armed security forces guarding the entrances to trafficked public places with security barriers — adopting an “Israel-style” approach, so to speak?
Not necessarily, we can still maintain our way of life and remain an open society, but we must be more selective on which policies we can and cannot pursue. Some restrictions are necessary, and it's shocking that even during eight months of the state of emergency we still saw plenty of rioters in unguarded crowds in French cities.
The investigations into the Nice attack will be very instructive in helping us fix our mistakes and develop new methods to protect large crowds. It seems that a large truck was able to enter a secured pedestrian zone, so why wasn't the attacker stopped before?
Are there any specific Tunisian, Algerian, or Moroccan jihadist cells operating in France?
I don't think the cells on French soil are necessarily divided that way, but I agree with DSGI head Patrick Calvar that we should no longer look at the problem in terms of “French jihadis”, but in terms of Francophone jihadis. The majority of terrorists who've committed attacks and the “foreign fighters” returning to France from Syria in the last 18 months have been of Moroccan, Algerian, and Tunisian origin.
Generally speaking, I agree with FBI chief James Comey's analysis that as ISIS loses ground in Iraq and Syria, it's inevitably redoubling its efforts to strike abroad. This is a war of attrition, like the ones we've seen before in Afghanistan, Algeria, and the Balkans. We must prepare for the fight ahead.