The horrific and frightening terror attack last night in Nice, the French Riviera town, left at least 80 people dead and many more injured. A truck had driven at great speed through crowds of families celebrating Bastille Day along Promenade des Anglais. It was a cowardly and ruthless terror attack born of hatred and executed against helpless unarmed people of different nationalities. The police reacted with extreme courage and presence of mind. They took positions in front of a heavy truck and shot at it till the terrorist was killed. The French president has been quick to condemn it as an act of “terrorist character”, probably to include both al Qaeda and Islamic State as the two groups have been separately advising use of cars for terror attacks.
This attack was similar in its targets, as the one in Paris last November when 130 civilians were killed while they watched a soccer match or were at a theatre. The incident in Nice seems to be a lone-wolf attack, although gun shots were also heard. Guns and grenades were discovered from the truck. It will take some time before the identity of the attacker, believed to be a French Tunisian, probably Muslim, is established.
Although Islamic State is suspected, it has not officially claimed ownership of this attack. Islamic State-watchers like Rukmini Callimachi of the New York Times has said that pro-Islamic State channels, like the United Cyber Caliphate, had begun to celebrate. Khalifa News, considered to be an official Islamic State news channel by some, has begun to ask their followers to hijack Nice hashtags like #Nice06, #PrayForNice, #France and #Nice “to show to the world the truth about the war on the Islamic State and how they brought this on themselves.” Aswarti Media, the most famous of Islamic State accounts, has been covering the attack with greater enthusiasm. Other screenshots show that Islamic State adherents have immediately become active on the social media as they spread their message of hatred and fear.
The website www.politico.eu carried a report updated July 14 about the mutating terror threat. Nicholas Vancour cited an earlier report in the French newspaper Figaro about a briefing given by Patrick Cavaler, of the French domestic intelligence agency DGSI, warning that terrorists could try to use car bombs and remotely detonated IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in order to save operatives and and be able to strike repeatedly. This was felt possible despite or because of territorial losses to the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, as the terror organisation would seek to show its strength elsewhere. Further, that there would not be just lone-wolf attacks but also large-scale sophisticated ones. Before the attack in Nice, French security systems had been ramped up manifold but gaps still remain. Besides they have been on emergency duty for eight months and this can be mentally and physically exhausting.
One consequence of this attack, following on the earlier Paris and Belgium attacks will be the growth of the right-wing parties in Europe. Marine le Pen and Geert Wilders and their parties will gain in France and the Netherlands. Even Donald Trump will benefit from this. This will mean stricter immigration laws, and even stricter visa regulations. Travelling to France via another country already means two immigration checks. Security agencies will seek greater roles and there will be palpable tension in French society. A push to the right may come also from disillusioned Muslims who seek protection against the radicals in their midst and look to the majority for support. The fear is that this internal conflict within Islam could spread in the West and North America. Moderates expect support from the majority community among whom they live and seek to identify with. Instead, equivocation about the source of attacks and vague narratives by political leadership to explain their stance, leaves this section of the Muslim community vulnerable to the radicals. More people in Europe will now read Bruce Bawer’s “While Europe Slept-How Radical Islam is Destroying the West from Within.” The other problem is that even the usually better informed seem to assume that this is a France-specific threat and not something that is affecting the rest of the world as well.
The French reacted today the same way as they had after the Paris attacks: with dignity and resolve. Residents of Nice threw open their houses for stranded people, with #PortesOuvertNice and #AttaquesNice hashtags trending on Twitter. All taxis converged around the Promenade to carry people to safety or hospitals, free of charge. This is far better than how we usually react in India. We play the blame game and carp at the government, reveal details and trample on evidence.
At times like this there is talk of an Islamic State in India. What we have is much worse. What we have or had in Burhan Wani and his ilk is a sworn anti-India terrorist whose aim was to “unfurl the flag of Islam on Delhi’s Red Fort” and his call to Kashmiris was to wage a “holy war” against Indians. Quite obviously there can be no negotiations with this ideology. He belonged to the so-called Hizbul Mujahedeen whose leader, Syed Salahuddin, lives in Pakistan and who had recently openly met the Jamaat-ud-Dawa leader Hafiz Saeed in Lahore to “condemn” India and pledged to continue their Ghazwa-e-Hind. The so-called Hizbul Mujahedeen is a Pakistani-created, funded- and trained-organisation. Salahuddin is the chairman of the United Jihad Council which has Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) as its members. Both the LeT and the JeM have links with al Qaeda whose stated aim is to establish Islamic rule in South Asia.
That is where the danger to our nation lies.
(Vikram Sood is a former chief of R&AW. He is currently in France. The views expressed are personal.)