France thwarted two jihadist attacks last year

Emmanuel Macron, President of France.

Emmanuel Macron, President of France.

The French forces of order thwarted two jihadist attacks during the past year with what since 2017, 33 have been avoided in totall, said this Sunday the national coordinator of espionage and the fight against terrorism, Laurent Núñez.

“In 2020, two attacks of Sunni Islamist terrorism were thwarted”, explained in an interview to the station Europe 1 Núñez. He added that overall, over the last four years, 33 were avoided “thanks to the commitment of the French intelligence services and the fight against terrorism.”

He did not want to give details about the actions that had been prevented, but stressed that Sunni Islamist terrorism is “a priority threat” for his services.

Last fall France suffered a wave of Islamist attacks, which began on September 25 with the attack with a knife by a Pakistani to two people who were seriously injured next to what had been the headquarters of the satirical magazine “Charlie Hebdo” in Paris.

On October 16, he was beheaded by a young Chechen refugee near the school where history teacher Samuel Paty taught in the Paris region, who had been the target of a campaign of attacks on social media for showing his students the controversial caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

On October 29, a young Tunisian who had arrived in Europe clandestinely a few weeks earlier, murdered three people in a church in Nice.


Jihadists freed by Mali, the great unknown

In at least three places, the release of four hostages in Mali, Thursday, October 8, was celebrated: on the tarmac of the Villacoublay air base, near Paris, where Sophie Pétronin’s family came to wait for him the next day. ; in Bamako, around the residence of Soumaïla Cissé, the freed Malian opposition leader; and somewhere in the desert, near the border with Algeria, where the Tuareg leader Iyad Ag Ghali was giving a banquet to celebrate the jihadists that the junta in power in Mali had let go.

→ ANALYSIS. How Sophie Pétronin’s release in Mali became possible

On the side of Soumaïla Cissé, “The day of his release, we received friends until five in the morning”, specifies his wife joined by The cross. “My husband is fine. He was keen to meditate first on the grave of his bodyguard who was killed during his kidnapping six months ago. Then, he went to offer his condolences to the families of the members of his party who died of the coronavirus, during his captivity. “

“All of Bamako remembers the attacks on the Terrasse or the Radisson”

But it is the image of the “banquet”, available on social networks, that most moved Aimé, a Christian Malian from Bamako: “Iyad Ag Ghali showed his strength with this couscous and these grapes that made you want. He taunted the State of Mali by treating all these ex-prisoners involved in attacks, like those of the Radisson Blu or La Terrasse, which all of Bamako remembers. They are very dangerous individuals. “

More than 200 prisoners were freed by the junta and taken by plane to the north of the country. No exact count, no precise list is available concerning them. We rely on the photos of the banquet. On one of them, Aliou Mahamane Touré. The former head of the Islamic police of Mujao, in Gao, “Was arrested in 2013, tried in 2017, released two years later, before being handed over by the French soldiers of Operation Barkhane again to the Malian authorities”, says Drissa Traoré, of the Malian Association for Human Rights (AMDH).

The other releases could not be confirmed and remain shrouded in mystery. Since that of the hostages, Drissa Traoré is working to account for the releases decided by the junta. “A year ago, there were 200 jihadists detained in Bamako central prison. Last year, eleven were tried, this year four, including two in absentia ”, he recalls.

“The important thing was the release of Soumaïla Cissé”

The scenario of the outcome, almost a week later, seems relatively clear to Serge Michailof, author of Africanistan (1). “It was Iyad Ag Ghaly, a Tuareg leader affiliated with Al-Qaida, who negotiated with the Malian junta. He is quite close to the Algerian security services and has spent a long time in Saudi Arabia. The important thing was the release of Soumaïla Cissé. Sophie Pétronin was incidental in the negotiations ”, he said.

→ READ ALSO. The ex-hostage in Mali Sophie Pétronin, a humanitarian carried by faith

Fulani leader Amadou Koufa, also attached to Al-Qaida, active in the center and the south of the country, is not affected by the agreement, according to Serge Michailof, and has not seen his supporters released. As for the forces claiming to be Daesh, they do not intend to negotiate and are active in the region of the three borders (Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso) where “It seems that currently the French soldiers of Barkhane are concentrating their efforts to neutralize them”, he adds.

“Double language, double face”

The ruling junta in Bamako made the bet of negotiation with Iyad Ag Ghaly, the only one ready to hear the Malian soldiers, even if he had said that he would only compromise “The end of the racist and arrogant occupation of the French crusaders”. The Malian soldiers had to be helped for this dialogue by Iman Mahmoud Dicko, who can count on three ministers in the government.

“Subtle and clever, he is not an extremist, even if it was he who torpedoed the family code a few years ago”, summarizes Serge Michailof. Since Bamako, Aimé is less optimistic: “These Muslim leaders have a double talk, a double face. They are also driven by their financial interests, and there may be some in these releases. Their goal will always be for their religion to be truly applied in Mali. “


The fate of the hostages

With Sophie Pétronin and Soumaïla Cissé Father Pier Luigi Maccalli, abducted in 2018, and Nicola Chiacchio, abducted in February 2019, were released.

Sophie Pétronin indicated that during her detention, Béatrice Stöckli, a missionary from Basel, was dead. She worked in Timbuktu and was kidnapped four years ago.

A Colombian nun Gloria Cecilia Argoti, seen on a video with Sophie Pétronin, would still be alive. She was forcibly taken away on February 7, 2017 by armed men who entered the grounds of her congregation in Karangasso.


In Mali, the Islamic State is fighting Al Qaeda

Burning street blockades during riots in Mali’s capital Bamako on July 12th
Bild: AP

In western Africa, the states are sinking into a whirlpool of violence. Islamic State, Al Qaeda and ethnic militias are fighting each other – protests are escalating in cities.

IA bomb detonated in a truck detonated in May in the border region of the two West African states of Mali and Burkina Faso. The terrorists of the regional branch of the “Islamic State” (IS) claimed responsibility for the attack. This is actually not unusual. For years, these jihadists have been waging a relentless war in various countries in the Sahel against those who have identified them as their enemies.

Thilo Thielke

Freelance rapporteur for Africa based in Cape Town.

Alongside local Islamist groups, they attack the troops of the affected states, storm hotels where international organizations or tourists are located, or massacre villagers who refuse to submit. The bomb in May, however, was aimed at militant Islamists: the fighters of the Al Qaeda terror network. Apparently, she killed several armed al-Qaida fighters.


Europe remains under terrorist threat

In 2019, 1,004 people were arrested for terrorist acts in the European Union. A number down from previous years, reports the annual study of Europol, the European police self-help organization, on terrorism. Most of it takes place in five countries: Belgium, France, Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom. Unsurprisingly, jihadism is the main terrorist threat on the Old Continent. New compared to previous years: far-right violence is on the rise, also claiming victims.

The infographic below shows, in red, terrorist attacks carried out in the Member States, in blue, the related arrests.

Map of attacks and arrests in Europe, in 2019. Europol


Jihadism always represents the main terrorist threat in Europe. Fifteen European states have arrested radical Islamists in connection with terrorist activities in 2019. However, the crest of the wave seems to have passed: the number of successful, failed or thwarted attacks has been falling for three years. From 33 in 2017, we went to 24 in 2018 then 21 in 2019, of which only three were successful. A total of ten people died: four on the Utrecht tram in the Netherlands, four at the Paris police headquarters, two on the London Bridge in London. A total of 14 attacks were thwarted. All but one attempt was made by individuals acting alone, except one.

Regarding the profile of terrorists, they are mostly young, between 20 and 28 years old, 85% are men. Almost 60% of them were citizens of the countries they attacked. Their targets are mainly public places and the police. Knife attacks and shootings are favored while bomb attacks are more often foiled.

Europol notes that theweakening of IS then the military defeat of the terrorist organization led it to change its strategy over time. A time trained on the conflict zones before being sent, the terrorists are now “Encouraged to act without waiting for remote support” with the reward of being promoted «martyr» by the organization, notes the report. Departures and returns from the Middle East are almost zero today.

Unlike the performers, the propaganda broadcasters seem to have more experience. Thus in Spain, two important catches, a man and a woman, were aged 49 and 45 respectively. In addition, the online presence of IS has been weakened “When, on 21 and 22 November 2019, the EU Member States and Europol coordinated an action targeting the online ecosystem”, removing the “Pro-IS channels and groups on Telegram”. “Subsequent attempts by IS supporters to regenerate their networks through the creation of new groups and channels have been largely unsuccessful.”

Suspects Arrested For Jihadism In 2019 Europol

Europol is concerned, however, about the situation in prison, especially in France. In our country, hundreds of Islamist terrorists are imprisoned. The study recalls that between mid-2018 and the end of 2019, a total of four attacks were stopped behind bars. It also warns of the terrorists’ exit: “Belgium has observed that certain prisoners prefer to serve their full sentence without asking for early release because no condition or probation measure can be imposed after their release.”

The separatists

The actions of the separatists represent the major part of the terrorist acts recorded in Europe (57 out of 119). TheNorth Ireland takes most of it. Paramilitary, Republican or Loyalist groups continue to use violent means of action. For example, a journalist died on April 18, 2019, while standing near a police vehicle observing riots in Derry / Londonderry, hit by a bullet. These same groups “Continue to be involved in criminal activities using extreme violence and intimidation to control communities”.

On the other hand, Europol notes that calm persists in the Pays Basque, where ETA seems to respect its self-dissolution, in 2018, although the police continue to regularly discover arms caches. Same in Corsica, remained relatively calm. But Europol warns of “The emergence of ramifications of groups advocating violence causing concern about the possible re-emergence of the threat.” So, the appearance of the “FLNC for independence”, in September 2019, and the destruction of a villa by the “October 22 FLNC” in December, when the group had started demilitarization in May 2016.


Greece, Italy and Spain are mainly affected by far left terrorism. The attacks are on the rise compared to 2018, (26 against 19) the arrests also (111 against 36): they more than tripled. Italy is particularly affected by the phenomenon.

Some examples of the attacks: on March 22, 2019, two men on a motorcycle threw a grenade at the Russian consulate in Greece, in Athens. Twice, the headquarters of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party were targeted by homemade explosive devices. In Italy, government or private company vehicles are the targets. The headquarters of an extreme right party were also targeted by an explosive device. Most of the time, the perpetrators are not discovered and the actions are claimed online.

Antifascism, anti-racism and the action of the police remain their main motivations for action for these groups, often non-hierarchical, loosely structured and operating in urban areas.

Far right

2019 was the year of the resurgence of far-right terrorism in Europe, according to Europol. Three states report six successful attacks and one that failed, in the United Kingdom, Germany and Lithuania. A cell has also been dismantled in Poland.

The study notes that mass attackers set an example for others. Thus, Anders Breivik served as the initial model. Several recent attacks have referred to and responded to each other: Christchurch (New Zealand), Poway (USA), El Paso (USA), Baerum (Norway) and Halle (Germany). All present themselves as martyrs and precursors of a “Racial war” which will not fail to occur.

In Europe, the two major attacks took place in Germany: the assassination of a prefect in March 2019 and that of two other people in the attack on a synagogue and a Turkish restaurant in October 2019. The number of arrests has halved compared to 2018, in 2019 (21 vs. 44). Most of the arrests are linked to the preparation of an attack, often accompanied by the illegal possession of weapons. 40% of those arrested are men between 22 and 30 years old.

Without going on to terrorism, Europol notes that many European countries are concerned by the rise in far-right violence and sometimes armed groups and even sometimes overarmed. In Belgium, France and Slovenia, several paramilitary groups have emerged to protect the population from an Islamic danger. The study notes the influence of l’Ukraine and the civil war in the east of the country between Prorussia and pro Ukrainians. Whatever the camp, far-right activists will sometimes take up arms to fight there.

Finally, Europol notes the meeting between right-wing extremism and anti-feminism, which is particularly embodied in “involuntary celibates” (incel). The latter, who hate women to the point of wanting to kill them, have integrated anti-feminism into the theory of “Great replacement”. According to them, the study notes, “Feminism was invented to divert women from their role “natural” mother and, therefore, accused of being responsible for the decline in birth rates in Western countries, which in turn allows immigrants – whose women would not have been influenced by feminist rhetoric – to become the majority more quickly. “