Attack in Nice. How to better detect terrorist attacks?

In one month, three attacks with a knife or a machete took place in France. On September 25, while the trial of the January 2015 terrorist attacks was unfolding, a man armed with a chopper seriously injured two employees of the Première Lines production company, at the foot of the former premises of Charlie Hebdo, in Paris. Two weeks ago, on October 16, it was the history-geography teacher Samuel Paty who was assassinated in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine (Yvelines). And this Thursday, October 29, in Nice, a man in his twenties killed three people with a knife. Three terrorist attacks.

“You have to live with this threat”

Is the fight against terrorism insufficient in France? At the end of August, the Minister of the Interior recalled that the staff of the DGSI (General Directorate of Internal Security) will have increased by nearly 2,300 agents between 2014 and 2022. And that its budget has increased from 41 to 79 million. euros between 2015 and 2019.

However, the jihadist attacks continue. “In the same way that we will have to get used to living with the virus, we have to live with this terrorist threat. And this, even if this military jihadism is probably no longer capable, as it was five years ago, of organizing commandos such as those who massively killed on November 13, 2015, and before that in Charlie Hebdo », notes Xavier Crettiez, researcher at Cesdip (Center for sociological research on law and penal institutions), specialist in terrorism and radicalization.

“An intelligence matter”

These knife attacks, sometimes referred to as « djihadisme low cost », nevertheless cause deaths. How then to better detect them? If many experts agree that there is no such thing as zero risk when it comes to an attack, how can the net be tightened? “It’s all about intelligence. And nothing else “, assures Xavier Crettiez. The detection of these radicalized people ready to take action, sometimes unknown to the intelligence services, requires a detailed analysis of the thousands of information collected. ” In collection terms, French services are rather very good ”, notes Alain Bauer, professor of criminology at Cnam (National Center for Arts and Crafts).

Then, to analyze this data, there is “Two main marshalling yards” : the Pharos reporting platform, which “Receives thousands of messages”. And the Central Territorial Intelligence Service (SCRT, heir to the ex-RG). “For the most part, anti-terrorism services are the product of counterintelligence. They have a culture of secrecy. However, the analysis of this information requires calling on experts. And then to be able to share them ” with other counterterrorism or police services. It is this culture of expertise and sharing that is still lacking at the SCRT, according to Alain Bauer.

“A good anti-terrorism service is not when the perpetrator of an attack has been arrested, but when there has been no attack”, recalls the criminologist. At the end of August, Gérald Darmanin recalled that thirty-two attack projects had been stopped in France since 2017. Since that same year, thirteen terrorist attacks have, however, resulted in the death of twenty-four people.


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