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Terror in Europe

France's Twin Threat From Within: Angry Youth, Cynical Politics

France is not only a target for ISIS. The country must also admit that terrorism profits from its internal fractures.

On the RER train between Paris and the Mitry suburb.
On the RER train between Paris and the Mitry suburb.
Richard Werly

NICE — Will the French authorities have the courage to "tell all" about the Nice tragedy and its perpetrator, Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel? It looks that way, as the anti-terrorism team led by the respected Paris prosecutor, François Molins, demonstrated its commitment to sharing objective information with the public during last year's attacks, both in January and November.

How, then, can we explain this doubt that has started to creep in, which has taken form in accusations launched by the former mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, by leaders of the traditional French conservatives parties, and by the president of the far-right National Front party, Marine Le Pen? The brutal truth is that 230 people have been killed by terrorists since January 2015. And that shows an increasingly disturbing reality, after six months of living in a state of emergency: If France is indeed a priority target for ISIS, because of its military commitments in Africa and the Middle East, it is also a victim of the fractures and blindness within its own society.

The first fracture is the abandonment of too many neighborhoods where Muslim youth are prey to Islamist recruiters. It is not to say that ISIS controls these areas that have been beaten down by unemployment and trafficking: On the contrary, many Muslims and non-Muslims have successfully battled it to avoid the worst.

However, six months of special public powers in the state of emergency are not nearly enough to close gaps opened in recent years. That a psychologically unstable person was able to "rapidly radicalize" is revealing. Inflamed by ISIS propaganda, a part of French and immigrant youth — the one now pursuing jihad — is ready to turn its hate towards the French Republic by any means.

The second fracture is around security and politics. Like it or not, Marine Le Pen is right in saying that in other countries, the Interior Minister would have offered his resignation after such a string of tragedies. We cannot forget that this Bastille Day was the last of François Hollande's five-year-term, as he seeks reelection in spite of disastrous approval ratings. The greatest risk is that the truth is going to be sacrificed, or altered, by politicians settling scores — a fear voiced by more and more police and security officials. At this stage, to avoid the spreading gangrene of suspicion, the president is duty-bound to exhibit complete transparency.

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