France's War with Jihadis


France’s war with the jihadis is more intense than most Americans or even most Europeans would imagine. With French troops engaging the Taliban in Afghanistan often coming under attack, jihadist cells have started targeting France as well as French presence in the Sahel, the north African Sahara.

FRANCE TACKLING JIHADISTS — The French battle with Salafist jihadism is widening, though not well publicized overseas. Photo shows the cover of L’express magazine leading on the subject of Islam in France. 



In a recent interview with Parisian daily Le Figaro, French Interior Minister Michèle Alliot-Marie, provided significant revelations.


During a recent lecture tour of Europe I had the opportunity to meet with French defense and counterterrorism officials as well as with legislators, particularly members of the French National Assembly serving on the Afghanistan’s committee.


According to Alliot Marie members of a terrorist group in Central Asia have recently been arrested in Mulhouse, in the east of France, where they were apparently undergoing military training.


This shows that active jihadist cells are indeed deploying inside France as they are inside many other Western European countries. The minister said: “I can tell you that 89 Islamic activists were arrested in France in 2007.”


Asked about the recruitment factories Alliot Marie said, “French prisons are a place of privileged recruitment for Islamist radicals. It’s one of my concerns. I come moreover to propose to my European counterparts to develop a handbook on Islamism in prison to inform security professionals on how to detect and prevent this type of recruitment.”


France’s prison system is not that different – in terms of incubator – from the United Kingdom or the United States.


The minister also indicated that “Certain problem areas in our suburbs also remain choice target for Salafist activities. The youth are then sent to theological education in the Muslim world and attend Koranic schools, like the madrassas of Pakistan, Egypt and Yemen.”


Again, we can see clearly the nature of the international system established by the jihadist Salafists which applies in France, other European countries and in America as well. This undermines the theories that the bulk of jihadist indoctrination system is not unified nor is it universal.


For France, having the largest demography of jihadist Salafists is revealing that the recruitment-indoctrination process is somewhat comparable. Obviously, the language, local realities are always different.


On another level, Alliot Marie listed names for five countries described “at risk.”


“Like Pakistan or Yemen, we do communicate, in agreement with the airlines, the names and dates of departure and arrivals of passengers reported as dangerous. We want to extend this watch to other countries and to flights with a stopover, which would prevent for example going through Switzerland when coming from Pakistan in order to cover up tracks. Finally, we would like to know if passengers travel alone or accompanied. It’s important to prevent hijacking of planes.”


Such a statement is surprising as many critics in the United States blast Washington for establishing lists of passengers from countries at risk while claiming that Europeans do not. Now we hear the French minister of interior clarifying that these lists exist and that they are part of the French national security apparatus. This demonstrates that the prevention policy in a country very sensitive to civil liberties such as France, can work as a component of counter terrorism measures.


Two other areas of confrontation with al-Qaida are the Sahel in Africa and on the Internet.


The French minister said: “AQMIM threatens today French interests throughout the Maghreb and its influence extends to the Sahel.”


She continued: “[A] more important danger is that the terrorists have changed tactics. Several leaders of the Gulf countries have confided in me that attacks organized well in advance are yielding to opportunistic attacks, unplanned and committed by individuals indoctrinated through the internet. These wannabe jihadists are sometimes often don’t even belong to. This new threat is therefore much more difficult to identify and follow up on.”


Here again, another ingredient calling for attention internationally: what I have coined “Mutant Jihad” in my 2005 book “Future Jihad”, which has been described as “homegrown terrorism,” once again presents the feature of indoctrination as a root cause.


This finding by the French government should give the counter terrorism community across the Atlantic more indicators that the jihadist ideology remains in the center of the movement globally, even if regional interests are signaled here and there.


But I must admit that the most indicative statement made by Alliot Marie is her call to create a “handbook on Islamism” to be used inside the prison system to allow authorities to detect the growth of jihadist or Salafist ideology.


If anything, this bold move shows the precariousness of the recently developed assertions – both in Brussels and in Washington – that words that detect the ideology shouldn’t be used. Here we have the minister of interior of the French Republic – a country that has more experience with Salafism than any other Western nation – urging just the opposite: that is the production of a manual that would precisely find and use all words possible that would help in finding the radicals.


This comes as greater evidence that the architects of the so-called Lexicon disseminated across the U.S. bureaucracy is not only counterproductive, but is actually dangerous for the efforts in counter terrorism to detect the enemy ideology.


While one of Europe’s largest democracies is heading toward winning that battle of words by actually using them and understanding them, the most powerful democracy in the war on terror has abandoned one of the most efficient tools to “see” the enemy, and to educate its own public about it.


Note that the French minister uses these terms in a very precise way. She used “Islamists” when needed and Salafists when she wanted to be more specific about the doctrine.


In France, as I noted through my discussions this summer and as we can read widely in the media and academia, the terms jihadists, Islamists and Salafists are used with confidence and on solid academic grounds.


Furthermore, French-Muslim intellectuals and officials use these terms very naturally as these words are well understood in the Muslim community of France, the largest in Europe, unlike what some apologists claim in the United States: that these words, allegedly, touches the sensitivities of the community. However, the French use of these words is very focused and avoids the hyphenations and generalizations, which can indeed have a negative impact on the cultural dialogue.


In conclusion, the French battle with Salafist jihadism is widening, though not well publicized overseas. In the next months and years, it is expected that escalation would covers the areas mentioned by the French minister: Afghanistan, Sahel and North Africa as well as France itself.

Walid Phares is the director of the Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C. and a visiting scholar at the European Foundation for Democracy. He is the author of, “The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy.”

8 thoughts on “France's War with Jihadis”

  1. At least France under Sarkozy has a chance. Meanwhile, the US seems to be going backwards regarding domestic Koranism.

  2. “Islamophobia”=BS Says:

    At least France under Sarkozy has a chance.

    WELL! lets see what traitorous Sarkozy has to say

    At a conference earlier this month, Sarkozy showed his true colours, and that of establishment politicians everywhere on the immigration issue, with a quite astounding U-turn on his pre-election rhetoric.

    The French National Assembly was the setting for the inaugural Conference on the Teaching of Arabic Language and Culture earlier this month where the French Government strongly advocated the teaching of Arabic language and culture and civilisation in French schools.

    In a blatant attempt to court the ever increasing Arabic and Islamic voter base in France, Sarkozy called Arabic “the language of the future, of science and of modernity” and expressed the wish that “more French people share in the language that expresses great civilisational and spiritual values.” He continued:

    “We must invest in the Arabic language because to teach it symbolizes a moment of exchange, of openness and of tolerance, and it brings with it one of the oldest and most prestigious civilizations of the world.

    “It is in France that we have the greatest number of persons of Arabic and Muslim origin. Islam is the second religion of France.”

    He then lauded the “advances in terms of diversity” that were occurring in French society, including the increase in Islamic sections of cemeteries, the training of imams and the appointment of ministers from diverse backgrounds.

  3. “The French battle with Salafist jihadism is widening”

    Some gays and feminists are also coming on board. It’s a race to the finish!

  4. My opinion is that I don’t see France & rest of Europe becoming Islamic nations, but I see them plunging into a state of internal Guerrilla conflicts with millions of Muslims that will effectively neutralize any response they could muster against the Islamic nations uniting to attack Israel, for the resurrection of the Islamic Caliphate that fell with the Ottomans.

    That leaves the United States to deal with, and that plan with Obama sure seems on target at the moment. The U.S. economy only needs a slight push to send it over the edge into a another great depression, bringing the unstoppable military machine to a no funded grinding halt.

    I think we are a matter of a few years away of seeing the prophetic fulfillment of the war of Ezekiel 38 & 39. All those ancient lands mentioned are now Islamic states. Gee what a coincidence. This may sound ugly & dooms dayish, but when when reads the outcome, those armies are utterly annihilated.

    Islam is going to meet a bloody end no matter what.

  5. Western European people are fed up and so are the English and the
    Scottish. Read the commons from people in the European countries.
    It is just a matter of time and the common people will not take it anymore.
    If their governments are not going to do a thing about it are people going
    to organize in groups to come u with a plan.
    It is scary, because it will be very ugly and bloody.
    But if you don’t want the Islam religion, you have to stand up.
    Too many people are afraid to say something.
    Older people are afraid of being confronted by groups of Middle Eastern
    young men. It is a shame, in your own country.
    Enough is enough.

  6. Mimi…your post is encouraging. From the news reports and daily photos, I had assumed EU had already surrendered to Islam.

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