The October 3rd terrorist attack in on Paris Police HQ had had a different flavour to those of recent memory. It struck at the heart of French authority.
Mickael Harpon, the perpetrator, didn’t use guns and didn’t target public arenas, Christmas markets or Jewish establishments; he struck the interior of the Paris police headquarters, killing four people. Harpon died at the scene. The Paris police headquarters is largely seen as a symbol of French strength and security.
This fact alone highlights the significance of this particular attack. Prominent French scholar Gilles Kepel, in an interview with Le Figaro, stated that, “The attack is a major turning point in Islamic terrorism”.
One of the most concerning aspects of this particular attack has to do with Mickael Harpon’s job. For those unaware, Harpon was a civilian IT specialist with high-level security clearance working in the intelligence division and had been there for 16 years. He was also a convert to Islam and regularly attended his local mosque.
The fact that a member of the security establishment in France with high-level clearance, albeit a civilian IT specialist, killed three intelligence employees and stabbed two police officers within a French police stronghold, indicates the severity of the problem.
Patrick Calvar, in 2016 when he was the head of domestic intelligence in France, stated that the confrontation (with the 15,000 Salafists in France at the time) was inevitable. This attack only further highlights the seriousness of France’s problem with extremist Islam.
One of the most obvious questions one can ask after an attack like this, and one no doubt many within the French government and intelligence services will be asking themselves, is “how did Harpon manage to fly under the radar in a place dedicated to finding people just like him?”
An editor of Le Figaro, Alexis Brezet, created the term “dénislamisme”, which translates to “denial of Islamism”, referring to the way many within France view the problem. A denial of Islamism is the distorting and downplaying of the threat and the almost paralysis-like state the government and police often appear to be in when dealing with Islamism. This term helps us understand how Harpon managed not to get noticed despite his clear extremist motivations and leanings.
Following the attack, Harpon had on his desk several USB drives that contained the personal information of thousands of agents and also violent Islamist propaganda. Was the information for his job, or was he planning on sending it to someone? At this point, we’ll probably never know. But, somewhere between 2012 and 2015, the French police entered the home of a woman who had been suspected of having ties to ISIS and found a USB drive with the personal details of thousands of French police officials. Where did that information come from?
Unfortunately, France (or at least many prominent members of the government) appears to be experiencing a prolonged state of ‘dénislamisme’ that is blurring the seriousness of the issue.
A large portion of the French populace now generally accepts that terrorism is a part of life in France. Just as Sadiq Khan famously said, it’s “part and parcel of living in a great global city”. But it isn’t, and it never should be. Should France not address the critical issue of widespread extremism within the country, unfortunately worse French terrorist attacks are yet to come, and Paris police may struggle to contain the chaos.
If you enjoyed this article, you may enjoy my recent article on French civil instability here.