The latest terrorist atrocity in France, where 84 people were killed on Thursday night during Bastille Day celebrations in the southern city of Nice, is the seventh deadly attack to be carried out against the country since the Charlie Hebdo killings of January 7, 2015, bringing the total death toll to 400.
As France grieves, the people of Ireland, who have experienced more than their share of terrorism, join with the rest of the civilized world in mourning the victims.
People have been left confused and angry by the slaughter. Understandably, they find it hard to grasp that so many were either killed or injured, many of them critically, including an Irishman, as they gathered on the Promenade des Anglais, the most popular venue in Nice for strolling, cycling, jogging and roller-blading, swimming, or just relaxing with a glass of wine on the two-mile long stretch overlooking the sea, a social lynchpin where visitors to the ancient maritime city have been gathering for centuries.
What is particularly alarming about this outrage is that families, including children enjoying the fireworks display, were deliberately targeted in the carnage caused when a man, identified as a Tunisian named Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, who lived locally, drove a lorry at high speed through the crowd of thousands of revellers.
Were it not for the bravery of policemen who held their ground as the lorry cut a bloody swathe through the crowd, killing or maiming all in its path, the slaughter could have been much worse. They kept firing until the driver, who had a gun in his hand, was dead.
Ironically, the French state of emergency was due to lifted but has immediately been extended by François Hollande for a further three months. Nonetheless, what people are now asking is this: if a state of emergency existed, why did the atrocity occur?
Part of the answer to this complex question is that this massacre was different to most of the earlier murders in France. What sets it apart was that the perpetrator was not a professional terrorist as such. Rather, he was a small-time criminal who was known to the police but not to the French intelligence agency.
It is generally accepted that what Europe is witnessing is the beginning of a copycat process in which individuals, such as the lorry driver, may not be directly orchestrated by the so called IS killing machine, but are now going alone, taking it upon themselves — possibly for a political reason or some other inexplicable cause such as a personal gripe against the state — to carry out its deadly work as a solo operator.
The changing nature of terrorism makes the French achievement in keeping safe the millions of fans who attended the European football championship all the more impressive. This was despite the avowed aim of Islamic terrorists to target the games which were held in several cities across France.
In keeping with the French principle that normal life must go on in spite of terrorism, the Tour de France continued yesterday following a minute’s silence for the victims.
However, the lethal effect of loners, as seen in Nice — a city with a legacy of Islamic militancy — means that every city and town in every country is potentially at risk. There is, for instance, no guarantee that a lunatic might take it into his head to drive a lorry into the crowd at a St Patrick’s Day parade in some Irish city.
Make no mistake, that could happen. And this makes it essential for Europe, and especially Ireland, to maintain constant vigilance because lunatic fringe loners will ensure that the war being waged by fanatics will go on long after the military defeat of Islamic extremism.
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