France may have dodged a bullet — or a hail of them — thanks to the work of their security forces, and to a heads-up from an unnamed foreign government. Police arrested seven men to foil a new terror plot, six of whom had not previously come to the attention of their intelligence services. It was the seventh, flagged by a French ally, who led security forces to the other six, according to CBS News:
French anti-terrorism police have arrested seven people in Strasbourg and Marseille and thwarted what the interior minister called a new potential attack.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, announcing the arrests Monday, said six of the suspects arrested hadn’t been known to intelligence services. Cazeneuve said that Sunday’s arrests prevented “a terrorist act that had been envisaged for a long time.”
The suspects are French, Moroccan and Afghan, and are between 29 and 37 years old. Cazeneuve said six of them hadn’t been known to intelligence services, and one was a Moroccan who had been flagged to France by a foreign government.
What was their target? Strasbourg holds an annual Christmas festival that will open this week, but Reuters reports that French officials don’t believe that was the target. According to Strasbourg’s mayor, the plot took a more familiar aim:
The minister gave no information on the target of the planned attack. The mayor of Strasbourg said it appeared the plot had not concerned his city but rather “the Paris region”.
So who were these terror plotters, and what was their motivation? Malthusian extremists? Soccer hooligans? The Spanish Inquisition? (No one expects the … ) So far French officials haven’t commented, but Reuters offers this utterly predictable tidbit:
A source close to the inquiry told Reuters that some of those detained had spent time in the Syria-Iraq region.
Quelle surprise. Given that and the announced nationalities of those involved, radical Islam appears to be the underlying motivation again. That might lead to a couple of uncomfortable questions for French intelligence, such as how they missed those men re-entering the country from territory controlled by ISIS. Had it not been for a friendly tip on the seventh man, they might not have caught up to this plot, leaving them in the same place as after the Paris attacks. Nipping this plot in the bud might not make that question and others as acute, but it’s still going to be an issue, especially with the flood of refugees that have made that kind of security provision difficult to the point of impossibility.
Even Cazeneuve offered an acknowledgment of that fact in his congratulatory statement:
“The scale of the terrorist threat is enormous and it is not possible to ensure zero risk despite everything we are doing.”
True, and it would be true to some degree even without the refugee crisis in Europe at the moment. But it’s difficult to argue that it would be as enormous without that crisis, and more manageable.