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Reactions pour in as experts warn of further attacks in France

'We are no longer able to foretell any attack. We cannot prevent them. There is something inevitable here'
Mourners lay flowers and light candles to commemorate those killed or injured in Friday's attack (AFP)

PARIS - Last night the French capital was turned into a war zone as news of a black, bloody Friday, in which at least 129 people were killed and almost 200 others injured, quickly spread.

Saturday saw a heavy police presence throughout much of the city. Some residents ventured out to pay respect and lay flowers in commemoration of those killed, while many others stayed indoors fearing the prospect of further violence with the country in shock and asking itself questions about internal cohesion but also foreign policy.

Experts and critics largely appear to come to the same conclusion that it is only a matter of time before France sees another bloody incident.

Addressing the public on Saturday, French President François Holland was quick to recall the failed August attacked on a Thalys train travelling from Amsterdam to Paris and various others attempts that have shaken France this year. In January, the country saw another major incident when gunmen entered the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine and shot dead 12 of its staff.

“We must be prepared to face other attacks, we are still at risk,” Hollande said.

Shortly after the attacks two main points of view emerged. The first, and most popular, is reminiscent of the rhetoric that come out after the 9/11 attacks on the US.  

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo publically stated that Friday’s attacks happened because “they hate us because of what we are".

“They want to destroy the country of human rights, secularism and joie de vivre [joy of life],” she said, while urging greater national union.

The second and less prominent view has focused in on French foreign policy, with critics quoted as saying “vos guerres, nos morts” meaning your wars, our victims.  

Once known for its strong opposition to the 2003 Iraq War, French foreign policy has become increasingly more active under Hollande, who has been a key player in the US-led anti-IS aerial campaign against Islamic State (IS) in Syria and also launched operations in Africa to roll back al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) advances.

US President Barack Obama emphasized that point when he paid his respects to the victims, calling France the United States' first ally.

The situation has intensified since September, when France began bombing IS positions in Syria as well as Iraq.

Since then, IS anti-French propaganda has only got worse, and IS has repeatedly accused France of supporting Israel and other “corrupted and unbelievers” in the Middle East countries, as well as persecuting its Muslim minority which makes up around 10 percent of the total population.

Romain Caillet, a researcher who specialises in the Islamic State, tweeted: “In recent days, two videos by IS contain images referring to France, although the subject is not directly related.”

France has been on edge for months. In August, members of French intelligence services anonymously leaked indications that something bad might be brewing.

Le Canard Enchaine newspaper gathered warnings from a “big shot” at in intelligence who was predicting “a French 9/11 where the intelligence would only be a powerless witness”. According to the source, terrorists were plotting to blow up a commercial flight with a missile. The intelligence agent added that he felt not enough was being done to fight terrorism.

“The truth is we have already tried everything. We have indeed reached the limits of what we can do, legally-wise and financially-wise,” the source said.

Then in September, Judge Marc Trevidic, a long-time head of the anti-terrorist legal office, issued further warnings in an interview with Paris Match.

“For the Islamic State, France has become public enemy number one,” he said. “Darker days are ahead of us. The real war the Islamic State is planning on having in France hasn’t started yet. Our investigations demonstrate it. We are, without a doubt, its sworn enemy.”

He added that France was particular vulnerable given its geographical position and the ease with which militants from across the EU could cross its border.

France, domestic policy and terrorism

The political response so far has been demanding extra security measures and extra state powers. Pierre Lellouche, a deputy of the opposition Les Republicains party who specialises in foreign affairs, said that: “We are paying the consequences of our battle against al-Qaida and Daesh [IS]. This is war, a lengthy one. I am afraid this is just the beginning. We cannot be at war outside of our borders and expect to live in peace inside our territory. We need to go back over our legislation.”

Laurent Wauquiez, chief administrative officer of Les Républicains, also demanded that “the 4,000 people who live in France and have a record for terrorism, have to be placed in anti-terrorism centres".

“Our defence system needs to meet the level of the threat we are facing. There’s no freedom for the enemies of France and of the Republic,” he added.

But experts are divided about the best way to move forward.

Alain Bauer, a French intelligence expert, who is close to Prime Minister Manuel Valls, told Radio France Inter that “we went from hyper-terrorism using airplanes to something more subtle. Targets have changed too.

“There’s no longer one type of terrorism. We need better and more suitable tools and measures to fight them. If 90 percent of the attacks are avoided, we need to reach 99 percent. The remaining one percent being unfortunately beyond our control.”

Judge Trevidic carried out a similar assessment in his interview with Paris Match. According to him, while existing anti-terror tactics have worked in the past that “it is no longer the case, for they have become irrelevant, permeable, outdated”.

“We are no longer able to foretell any attack. We cannot prevent them. There is something inevitable here,” he said. “When it comes to tools and measures used against terrorism, they have become totally inadequate. We are close to what we can legitimately call a penury at a time of great need, and here I choose my words carefully.”

France: social obsessions and terrorism

In addition to the security debate, the long-time French obsession about multiculturalism, Islam and social cohesion has also taken centre stake following the attacks.

“Here’s where laïcité [secularism] and Islam led France to,” Philippe de Villiers, of the right-wing Movement for France party, said. 

Other politicians have begun using the phrase “Beirutisation of France”.

Social media has been full of discourse, but while the Socialists currently control parliament France definitely seems to be shifting to the right. Regional elections are coming soon, and the polls are giving the Front National winner in the majority of the French regions, for the first time in history. Party leader Marie Le Penn is also topping presidential polls, with national elections due in 2017.

Muslims living in France have already been asked to break themselves away from the attacks, but even if they do so, resentments are unlikely to fade anytime soon.

Film director Mathieu Kassovitz, usually well known for his left-wing opinions, tweeted: “My Muslim friends, take the streets and make yourselves heard. If not, you deserve the conflating you are being the victims of.”