PARIS — France's intelligence services no longer rule out what not so long ago seemed unthinkable: the emergence on its territory of a "Lebanon-like" terrorism which would see suicide bombs replaced one day by the deadliest of operational modes — truck or car bombings, possibly activated remotely.
"We have to accept the reality," a well-informed French source tells Le Temps . "Every time a new attack is committed in France, we observe an improvement in the jihadists' organization and efficiency."
The source noted that we've seen an escalation from Mohamed Merah in March 2012, the Toulouse "lone wolf," to the targeted and apparently coordinated attacks against Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in January 2015, to wind up last Friday with three terrorist teams acting in sync in several locations in and near Paris. "Obviously, the network system, supported from abroad, is alive and well," he said. "And so are the supply chains."
The figures revealed on Monday by France's Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve after early morning raids in cities across the country confirm the scale of the problem. The 168 raids led to 104 people being placed under house arrest (and they will remain so until the end of the state of emergency declared on Friday night), with 23 more remanded in custody. Thirty-one weapons were seized, and a single cache uncovered at the house of the parents of a radicalized youth is enough to send shivers down your spine: police armbands, military clothing, bulletproof vests, a Kalashnikov, and a rocket-launcher.
The fact that the authorities were able to find such arsenals in a single night of operations confirms the multiple arm trafficking networks dismantled in France over the last few years. Most of them came from the Balkans or Eastern Europe, and were sometimes supervised by former French troops involved in operations abroad.
Thirst for revenge
For instance, 546 weapons were seized together with 30,000 ammunition and 46 people were brought to court in June 2015 after the police uncovered a France-Luxembourg network. In October 2014, several hundred guns and automatic weapons were seized after the dismantling of an online arms sales network. On the French Riviera in December 2013, the police arrested 45 people after discovering huge caches containing war weaponry that came from the Balkans and French military stocks.
Every time, they assumed this was mere organized crime. But lurking in the shadows, the jihadist threat was always there. "Traffickers sell to whoever wants to buy, and the mob uses this to get rid of weapons they used for robberies," a former police officer from the infamous northern quarters of Marseille recently told regional newspaper La Provence.
Another case, strangely absent from the latest reports, is fuelling the services' fears. In July, explosives and weapons were stolen from a military warehouse in Miramas, southeastern France: 180 detonators, about 10 plastic blocks and some 40 grenades were taken. Very few have so far been recovered. "The more this war against terrorism goes forward, the higher the risk of spectacular operations in retaliation to the airstrikes," the source says.
French intelligent services have also recently warned of the consequences of targeted airstrikes and the use of missiles to carry out extrajudicial killings. In mid-October, French strikes apparently targeted a jihadist training camp in Syria where Salim Benghalem, an ISIS instructor from Cachan, near Paris, was reportedly operating. The recent attacks, often carried out by siblings or terrorists with near-family ties, demonstrate that there's some sort of a tribal logic behind it. The need to satisfy a desire for revenge thus multiplies the religious and ideological motivation.