Gunmen invaded a Catholic church in the French town of St. Etienne du Rouvray in Upper Normandy, killing an 84-year-old priest in the middle of Mass and taking four others hostage. According to French president François Hollande, police have liberated the church, but not before the two terrorists slit the throat of Fr. Jacques Hamel. Hollande declared the attack the work of ISIS:
— BBC Breaking News (@BBCBreaking) July 26, 2016
The BBC has more:
The armed men entered the church in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray during Mass, taking the priest, Fr Jacques Hamel, 84, and four other people hostage.
Police later surrounded the church and French TV said shots were fired. Both hostage-takers are now dead.
How did Hollande come to this conclusion so quickly? In part because one of the attackers was already on the radar of French intelligence:
The selection of a church by the attackers, whatever their motives turn out to be, crosses a new red line in the grim history of recent attacks on continental Europe. The murder of an 84-year-old priest in this attack will have further inflamed public opinion.
News that one of the attackers was on the French government’s terror watch-list, known as the S list, will prompt many to question its purpose if he can remain at large to carry a knife into a church.
Indeed, this is a new direction for terrorists — in France and the West, anyway. ISIS has committed genocides against Christian communities, and others like the Yazidis, in its own territories for the past two-plus years. Only after the danger grew obvious did the West act at all, and even then took a very long time to apply serious resources to the dangers that Hollande cites. Unfortunately, that has allowed the stature and influence of ISIS to grow exponentially, and now they’re looking for softer targets to hit. Few targets are softer than churches, and for that matter, 84-year-old priests. This is as cowardly as it gets.
It’s also a new direction in France in a more literal sense. Most of the trouble in France has been around Paris and the southern areas. Upper Normandy seems more remote from the problem areas of banlieus and radicalism. This attack is designed to rattle the French sense of security throughout the country, and to push them into giving up against ISIS. It won’t work, but that’s the idea anyway.
However, France needs to decide whether it’s serious about fighting the war that Hollande describes. If so, then watch lists need to be watched. The French would be correct to question the purpose of a watch list if it doesn’t prevent attacks. It’s a symptom of handling a war through a law-enforcement paradigm, an error into which the entire West has fallen. One cannot prevent attacks through the law-enforcement paradigm, but through forward strategies to prevent terrorists from committing terrorism at all — and better yet, by destroying terror networks abroad long before they can start recruiting adherents here at home.