France opens terrorism investigation after policewoman is killed inside station

The attack happened at the secure entrance of a police station in Rambouillet, which is located west of Paris. A 49-year-old administrative assistant named Stephanie was attacked by a man with a knife. There are reports he yelled “Allahu Akbar” during the attack.

A source close to the inquiry told AFP the attacker shouted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest) during the attack.

Chief anti-terror prosecutor Jean-François Ricard, who spoke outside the station along with Prime Minister Jean Castex, confirmed that “comments made by the assailant” indicated a terror motive, without giving further details…

The 49-year-old woman, an administrative assistant and mother of two who was returning from a lunch break, was stabbed in the throat twice and died of her wounds shortly afterwards, the source said.

The attacker, 36, was fatally wounded when an officer opened fire on him.

The BBC reports the attacker was walking around outside the station prior to the attack, apparently talking on a cellphone. When Stephanie returned from lunch he used that moment to gain entrance to the station and then lunged at her with the knife. He was killed before he could attack anyone else.

A terrorism investigation has been opened. President Macron tweeted a statement which Google translates as: “She was a police officer. Stéphanie was killed in her Rambouillet police station, on the already damaged land of Yvelines. The Nation is at the side of [her] family, [her] colleagues and the police. In the fight against Islamist terrorism, we will not give up.”

Police have repeatedly been targets of jihadists in the past five years. In 2016 a man who’d sworn allegiance to ISIS murdered two police officers at their home. In 2017 a policeman was killed and two others were injured on the Champs Elysees by a man associated with ISIS. In 2019 a man who worked as an IT expert at police headquarters in Paris murdered four officers with a knife before he was shot dead. And those are just some of the attacks on police. The NY Times points out there have been other high profile terror attacks in France:

France has been hit hard by dozens of terrorist attacks over the past decade. The most recent high-profile episodes came in October, when a history teacher was beheaded after showing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in a class on free speech in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, and three people were stabbed to death at a basilica in Nice.

All of this plays into the political climate in France where a bill to fight extremism is currently being finalized. Part of the impetus for this comes from the beheading of French school teacher Samuel Paty last year.

Attacked by the left as an infringement of liberties and by the right as a weak compromise, the draft law reflects a decision by President Emmanuel Macron to defeat what he calls “Islamist separatism” and reinforce the unifying principles of French secularism, which affords no place in politics for religion. It will go to the Senate next month for final approval…

The legislation, even in its more moderate final form, constitutes part of this strategy. It extends the requirement of strict religious neutrality beyond civil servants to anyone who is a private contractor of a public service — like bus drivers. It also creates a new offense of “separatism,” defined as threatening, intimidating or assaulting an elected official or a public-sector employee.

Samuel Paty, the schoolteacher beheaded by a young Islamist fanatic in October after attempting to teach principles of free speech by a showing a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad, had received several online threats. Because the public school and its teachers are inseparable from the Republic’s self-image of equal opportunity for undifferentiated citizens, the killing has had a particular resonance.

NBC reported last month that the bill is divisive even within some Islamic families:

Hajjar Aboulharjan, 20, a university student who lives in a Parisian banlieue, said Macron’s comments about her faith were “unacceptable.”

“Islam is not in crisis. Radical people are in crisis,” she said, referring to Macron’s calling for an “enlightenment” in Islam after saying the religion is in “a crisis all over the world.”

Abdellah Aboulharjan, 46, her uncle, disagreed, praising Macron’s “very balanced” approach in tackling rising radicalization, adding that he does not “feel oppressed.”

The draft law would broaden the government’s powers to close places of worship that have ties to foreign funding and preach extremist ideologies. [Interior minister Gérald] Darmanin recently announced that 89 mosques were “suspected of separatism.”

This kind of muscular secularism would never fly in the U.S. but the French have a long history of insisting on it. It may turn out to be helpful in shutting down some extremists but it could also prompt a backlash and help those same extremists recruit new converts. But given the constant stream of new terror attacks in France like the one today, it’s not hard to see why the populace is eager to try something new to fight back against extremism.