Phil Johnson, Ph.D.
July 16, 2016
1.) What happened?
At about 10:30 pm on July 14th, (France’s Independence Day – Bastille Day) a 31-year-old French citizen of Tunisian decent, drove his 20-ton truck through a busy pedestrian area on a famous promenade in Nice, France. He killed at least 84 people, wounding hundreds of others. The death count is bound to go up – as many of the wounded are still in critical condition. The scene, according to witnesses was hard to bear, hard to imagine and people reported seeing things that will change them forever. The idea of using a large truck and using it to kill as many pedestrians as possible was a suggestion in a 2010 issue of the al-Qaeda magazine “Inspire.”
The horrible scene came to an end when the driver, Mohamed, opened fire on the crowd and the police were able to take him down.
2.) Who is Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel
The tragic act was committed by Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel – a man who was known to police for other crimes – but not for crimes involving terrorism. As of now, no group has taken credit for the action. But ISIS has celebrated Mohamed’s actions and encouraged followers to hashtag #Nice on their Twitter accounts. (Both ISIS an al-Qaeda have requested their followers to make use of vehicles as weapons against innocent people.)
What was Mohamed’s motivation? We don’t know for sure. There are reports that Mohamed was a violent man with a failed marriage, who drank, and ate pork, did drugs, and certainly didn’t seem to follow a strict Islamic lifestyle. (But to be fair, that describes all too many Muslims that I have met in my work in Muslims Majority countries around the world. It also describes many of the young men who travel to Syria to fight. There are many people who identify themselves culturally as Muslims, but don’t necessarily live out the commands of the Koran – until they do. And sometimes when they do – when they become radicalized – it is in the most extreme way.)
Some people will spend a lot of time debating whether or not this was a terror attack or just a crazy person. But according to French President Hollande, the event was clearly a terrorist attack. Authorities say the profile fits what the world is seeing lately: A Muslim individual who takes his cues from ISIS or an al-Qaeda affiliated group to murder as many people as possible. But the investigation will continue and information will come out. That’s all we can say at this point.
*Update later on July 16th: According to CNN, ISIS takes credit for the massive killings in Nice, France on July 14th. Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was radicalized quickly and according to ISIS’ media group, Amaq Agency, Mohamed Bouhlel was an ISIS soldier who carried out the attack.
3.) Why France again?
France has now suffered her third major attack in an 18-month period. The first was the murder of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists and the Jews trapped in the Hypermarket in January of 2015. Then about 130 people were killed when ISIS terrorists attacked the Bataclan theatre, busy cafe streets and the soccer stadium in November of 2015. And now this…more lives lost in a way that no one would have guessed or prepared for as they went about their day, celebrating life, liberty and fraternity.
There are several reasons why France may be an attractive target for violent jihadists. First, France has a large population of North African immigrants – Muslims immigrants – who have not been well-assimilated into French culture. Given the right recruiter, the right mood and the right grudge- they’re not hard to radicalize.
Secondly, France is also very involved in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria and has also called the enemy and the ideology behind it by name. France’s leaders understand that they are fighting radical Islamic terror. And France’s leaders seem to understand that the enemy is seeking to destroy the West and its influence and then to expand their Caliphate and their brand of Islam.
And finally – some people have long memories – and France’s colonial past is not so far in the past for some of today’s up-and-coming radicals. Some still blame France for the part they played in the break-up of the Turkish Empire (Ottoman Empire) after World War 1, which ended the last Caliphate.
4.) What’s next?
France will continue its state of emergency for another three months, giving police broader powers and people less privacy. France will mourn once again – at least 84 more souls have left this earth from French soil. Among the dead are men, women and children, from France, Switzerland, Morocco, the U.S. Russia and Armenia.
Hopefully the U.S., France and their allies will get serious about getting rid of ISIS by striking at its command center in Raqqa, its land holdings, its oil revenues, its other streams of money and its leadership. I suspect that this is what the short-term future holds for us – a scenario that will look like the dramatic end of ISIS. But sometimes appearances can be deceiving and victories have a way of turning into things you never expected. (And to be clear – taking care of ISIS could have been accomplished much earlier if the “powers” had wanted it to happen. But understanding the conflicting interests between the U.S. the EU, Iran, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Russia, etc. is sure to give you a brain tumor. But the situation has reached such a critical mass, the “powers”, I believe have decided to “end ISIS” – and then we get to see what we’ll watch next season.)
ISIS knows the end is coming – according to a source speaking to the Washington Post (upon the condition on anonymity) ISIS is preparing for losing their Caliphate – (the land they now control in Iraq and Syria). They are telling new recruits to stay in their own countries and continue attacks wherever they are.
Which is how ISIS changes from a very organized, wealthy, centralized organization to a decentralized one – where it provides ideas, reminders and inspiration for its followers. For ISIS, stage one of training is nearly over, it’s not Allah’s time for the ultimate Caliphate yet, but our soldiers are trained, dispersed and capable of bringing harm, fear and death to the infidel. As retired Air Force Michael Hayden told the Washington Post, “Where al Qaeda was hierarchical and somewhat controlled, these guys are not. They have all the energy and unpredictability of a populist movement.”
So, you can expect more attacks to happen – sometimes in surprising places at surprising times, in surprising ways. And ISIS will be able to console itself when it loses its Caliphate – because they always knew it would happen. For them, it was already written into prophecy. After all, they are just a tool in the hands of God for a time – but the ideology is not dead. The dream of an Islamic Caliphate with the Koran as the constitution, Shariah as the Law and global domination as the goal – well, that dream simply will not die – nor sleep too deeply. If we’re lucky, it will occasionally take a nap.