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It’s a horror!

| CLAUDE ARPI
Published : Nov 14, 2015, 10:41 pm IST
Updated : Nov 14, 2015, 10:41 pm IST

Terrorist Massacre in Paris”, “The Horror”, “Carnage in Paris”, “The War in the Centre of Paris” — On Saturday morning I woke up to these headlines in the French press when all I wanted to know was th

Terrorist Massacre in Paris”, “The Horror”, “Carnage in Paris”, “The War in the Centre of Paris” — On Saturday morning I woke up to these headlines in the French press when all I wanted to know was the result of the football match played in the Stade de France in Paris between France and Germany. Usually, this match resembles a Test match between Pakistan and India, the brother-enemies thrashing out their differences on the field. This time, however, it was more than a “friendly” match — during the first half of the game, many in the stadium heard three loud explosions.

It was only when the match was over that the spectators got a fuller picture and realised that four people had died in the proximity of the stadium, three out four casualties were suicide bombers themselves.

French President Francois Hollande, present in the stadium, had to be immediately escorted away to attend an emergency Council of Ministers meeting and to address the nation. While the spectators in the stadium were still dispersing in a relatively calm atmosphere, Mr Hollande announced a state of emergency over the entire territory of France.

During the following two hours, at least five more venues, in different areas of Paris, were struck. Everyone still carried in their mind the morning of January when two brothers, Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, entered the offices of the French satirical weekly newspaper Charlie Hebdo in Paris.

Armed with assault rifles, they killed 12 people and injured 11 others. They identified themselves as members of the Yemeni branch of Al Qaeda. While leaving, they shot a police officer posted outside the building. A while later, several other attacks took place in the Île-de-France region. Five more were killed and 11 wounded.

Two days later, the brothers were shot dead by police commandos outside a factory in Dammartin-en-Goële in Paris’ suburbs.

This triggered a tremendous popular reaction in France and, on January 11, about two million people, including more than 40 world leaders, marched down the streets of Paris

This was hardly 11 months ago.This time some 130 people have been killed and more than 200 injured — the worst terror attack in France’s history.

In his televised intervention, Mr Hollande said, “Terrorist attacks of an unprecedented level are underway across the Paris region. It’s a horror.”

He was referring to the attack in the Bataclan, a popular concert hall in Paris. It was packed with 1,500 people for a concert by the US band Eagles of Death Metal. One hour into the concert, four gunmen in all black walked onto the stage and calmly and methodically started firing at the concertgoers. A radio presenter who was present first thought it was part of the show, “but we quickly understood. They were just firing into the crowd.” It soon turned into “a bloodbath”, another witness later said.

One attacker told the crowd, “It’s the fault of Hollande, it’s the fault of your President, he should not have intervened in Syria.”

According to the latest reports, the four assailants were later killed when the riots police stormed the Bataclan, “three by activating their suicide vests and a fourth shot dead”.

The tally is horrific: Four casualties near the Stade de France, five dead at rue de la Fontaine au Roi; 12 dead at rue Bichat; one terrorist killed on boulevard Voltaire; 19 persons died at rue de Charonne and more than 80 in Bataclan.

To understand what happened, it is important to look at an event that occurred three days earlier. Bernard Cazeneuve, the French home minister, announced that a terrorist attack had been thwarted in Toulon, the naval base in southern France.

Toulon hosts important naval installations and is also where the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle is based.On October 29, Hakim, a 25-year-old resident of the city, was arrested and charge-sheeted for planning a terrorist attack on some French naval personnel.

Since the summer of 2014, Hakim was being monitored by the Directorate-General for Internal Security (DGSI), the branch of the French police responsible for anti-terrorist fight. They had got wind of Hakim’s plan to leave for Syria to fight on the side of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

A few months earlier, he had been noticed by the DGSI sleuths after he had posted violent jihadist messages on Facebook.

Hakim was at that time in contact with 21-year-old Mustapha Mokeddem, an ISIS recruiters living in Toulon who had been arrested in September 2012, after he sent threats to Charlie

Hebdo for publishing cartoons of Prophet Mohammad. A usual scenario followed: Hakim met Mokeddem who convinced him to join the “jihad”, but Hakim failed to leave for Syria in October and December 2014. Two months later, Hakim was banned from leaving the French territory and his passport confiscated. Then, encouraged by Mokeddem, he decided to “act in France”.

When he received two parcels containing some assault weapons and hoods, the police arrested him. Apparently, his target was some of the 12,000 personnel working for the French arsenal in Toulon. He told the French police that since a few months the ISIS had been telling new recruits that if they are unable to join the “Caliphate”, they should prepare attacks in France. In one video, Salim Benghalem, an ISIS member, was seen exhorting his “brothers” to become “solitary wolves” and to fight the “infidels”. “Kill them with knives, spit in their face as much as you can,” were his injunctions.

The attacks in Paris seem to have been coordinated with a new level of sophistication, without the DGSI and other intelligence agencies getting wind of it. What is particularly worrying is the large amount of arms and ammunition used by the terrorists.

This raises serious questions for Old Europe: Can it continue with the present policy towards migrants What is the future of the Schengen Agreement, which provides free circulation for people and goods within the area Will we see a return to a Europe with borders

That would be very sad indeed.Even when the state of emergency is lifted, these questions will probably have not found answers.

In India, a lot has been said recently about “intolerance”, but on November 13, France experienced “intolerance” with its blood (like India did in 2006). Year 2015 will indeed remain a dark year for France.

The writer is based in South India for the past 40 years. He writes on India, China, Tibet and Indo-French relations.