Last Thursday, the Bastille Day festivities were interrupted as Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhel, 31, drove a lorry down the famous Promenade des Anglais in Nice, deliberately targeting people and running them down. The terror began at around 10:30pm after thousands of people had watched a fireworks display on the seafront to celebrate the French national holiday. The celebratory mood immediately turned terrifying as innocent families and groups of friends were mercilessly run down. More than 80 people have been reported dead, and a total of 303 people were taken to hospital after the attacks. Ten children and teenagers are confirmed among the dead.
The BBC reports that six people are being held in connection with the killings, but Lahouaiej-Bouhel is thought to have acted alone in Thursday’s attack. While the French President Francois Hollande has condemned the tragic event as an act of terrorism, it is unclear whether the Franco-Tunisian had links with extremist groups. Despite this, the so-called Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack, stating that the attacker was acting in response to a call to target civilians in countries that are a part of the anti-IS coalition.
The French media has reported that the man driving the lorry had actively researched the route in the days before the attack. When his vehicle was eventually halted, Lahouaiej-Bouhel was shot dead by the police after firing on them at close range. The police reported that at the time of the attack, he was in possession of an automatic pistol, bullets, and a series of replica assault rifles.
People in France have lived in a state of emergency since the attacks in Paris last November, but Thursday’s attack has terrifyingly illustrated how the nature of terrorism has changed. A very real danger has been brought uncomfortably close to home as the attacker was unknown to the French secret service, and prior to the attack, there was no suggestion that he was capable of committing such an atrocity. It has been reported that 12,000 police reservists have been called upon in an attempt to increase security, but the efficacy of which is worrying, especially in the wake of this unpredictable ‘lone-wolf’ attack.
The French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, stated that Lahouaiej-Bouhel seemed to have been “radicalized very quickly.” While there is no current suggestion that he trained in Syria, the BBC suggests that he “self-radicalised” in response to the torrent of jihadist propaganda from the so-called Islamic State.
In recent years, almost 1,000 young French Muslims have traveled to Iraq and Syria to fight for the so-called Islamic State. This shocking mass-migration may be attributed to France’s inability to integrate the huge number of immigrants who feel alienated and are living in impoverished suburbs. The secular nature of much of society in France may also be a source of tension when met with a marginalized minority’s religious beliefs. Since the 1970s large populations have migrated to France from the former colonies, which is resulting in an increasing number of second and third-generation people of immigrant origin who do not identify as French and do not support France’s ideology, symbols or government. This is breeding a culture in which the disaffected youth may be particularly vulnerable to radical Islam.
The attacks last Thursday have horrified the international community, which has come together to support and console a grieving nation and to express a great sadness and sympathy for the families of those who lost their lives. The United States’ President, Barack Obama, stated that
“we cannot give in to fear or turn on each other… we cannot let ourselves be divided by religion because that’s exactly what the terrorists want.”
He further called for the world to not punish Muslim people in general for the despicable actions of a radical terrorist.
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