Terror in Europe

Arms Trafficking And Jihad, How France Could Turn Into Lebanon

Saint-Denis station
Saint-Denis station
Richard Werly

PARIS â€" 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 â€" 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.

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What It Means When The Jews Of Germany No Longer Feel Safe

A neo-Nazi has been buried in the former grave of a Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender – not an oversight, but a deliberate provocation. This is just one more example of antisemitism on the rise in Germany, and society's inability to respond.

At a protest against antisemitism in Berlin

Eva Marie Kogel


BERLIN — If you want to check the state of your society, there's a simple test: as the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John Jay McCloy, said in 1949, the touchstone for a democracy is the well-being of Jews. This litmus test is still relevant today. And it seems Germany would not pass.

Incidents are piling up. Most recently, groups of neo-Nazis from across the country traveled to a church near Berlin for the funeral of a well-known far-right figure. He was buried in the former grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender, a gravesite chosen deliberately by the right-wing extremists.

The incident at the cemetery

They intentionally chose a Jewish grave as an act of provocation, trying to gain maximum publicity for this act of desecration. And the cemetery authorities at the graveyard in Stahnsdorf fell for it. The church issued an immediate apology, calling it a "terrible mistake" and saying they "must immediately see whether and what we can undo."

There are so many incidents that get little to no media attention.

It's unfathomable that this burial was allowed to take place at all, but now the cemetery authorities need to make a decision quickly about how to put things right. Otherwise, the grave may well become a pilgrimage site for Holocaust deniers and antisemites.

The incident has garnered attention in the international press and it will live long in the memory. Like the case of singer-songwriter Gil Ofarim, who recently claimed he was subjected to antisemitic abuse at a hotel in Leipzig. Details of the crime are still being investigated. But there are so many other incidents that get little to no media attention.

Photo of the grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

The grave of Jewish musicologist Max Friedlaender

Jens Kalaene/dpa/ZUMA

Crimes against Jews are rising

Across all parts of society, antisemitism is on the rise. Until a few years ago, Jewish life was seen as an accepted part of German society. Since the attack on the synagogue in Halle in 2019, the picture has changed: it was a bitter reminder that right-wing terror against Jewish people has a long, unbroken history in Germany.

Stories have abounded about the coronavirus crisis being a Jewish conspiracy; meanwhile, Muslim antisemitism is becoming louder and more forceful. The anti-Israel boycott movement BDS rears its head in every debate on antisemitism, just as left-wing or post-colonial thinking are part of every discussion.

Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

Since 2015, the number of antisemitic crimes recorded has risen by about a third, to 2,350. But victims only report around 20% of cases. Some choose not to because they've had bad experiences with the police, others because they're afraid of the perpetrators, and still others because they just want to put it behind them. Victims clearly hold out little hope of useful reaction from the state – so crimes go unreported.

And the reality of Jewish life in Germany is a dark one. Sociologists say that Jewish children are living out their "identity under siege." What impact does it have on them when they can only go to nursery under police protection? Or when they hear Holocaust jokes at school?

Germany needs to take its antisemitism seriously

This shows that the country of commemorative services and "stumbling blocks" placed in sidewalks as a memorial to victims of the Nazis has lost its moral compass. To make it point true north again, antisemitism needs to be documented from the perspective of those affected, making it visible to the non-Jewish population. And Jewish life needs to be allowed to step out of the shadows.

That is the first thing. The second is that we need to talk about specifically German forms of antisemitism. For example, the fact that in no other EU country are Jewish people so often confronted about the Israeli government's policies (according to a survey, 41% of German Jews have experienced this, while the EU average is 28%). Projecting the old antisemitism onto the state of Israel offers people a more comfortable target for their arguments.

Our society needs to have more conversations about antisemitism. The test of German democracy, as McCloy called it, starts with taking these concerns seriously and talking about them. We need to have these conversations because it affects all of us. It's about saving our democracy. Before it's too late.

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