A New Wave of Violent Extremism in France

Posted by Brodie Kirkpatrick on

In 2015, French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebedo, printed a cartoon of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad on its front page. Visual depictions of Muhammad are considered blasphemous in Islam. Outrage from the cartoon’s release led to a terrorist attack targeting the newspaper’s headquarters and the surrounding area. 12 people were killed in that assault, which was claimed by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP).

On September 1st, 2020, Charlie Hebedo announced it would reprint that same cartoon of Muhammad. On September 25th, two people were wounded in a knife attack outside of the former headquarters of the newspaper, the site of the 2015 attack. This incident was attributed to Islamic extremism by France’s Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin and the suspect was taken into custody. 

On October 16th, Samuel Paty, a middle school history teacher, was beheaded in the commune of Conflans-Sainte-Honorine. The 47 year old Paty had recently shown Charlie Hebedo’s reprint of the Muhammad cartoon in a lecture on freedom of expression. Before showing the newspaper Paty reportedly asked his Muslim students to leave the classroom so they would not be offended. Word of Paty’s lecture made its way to the parents of his Muslim students and the Grand Mosque of Pantin, which is about 35km from the commune where Paty was killed. The mosque shared posts on its official Facebook page condemning Paty for his lecture. Paty was killed by an 18 year old Chechen refugee, Abdoulakh Anzorov, who authorities say held Islamist beliefs. Anzorov was made aware of Paty and his lecture by a parent of Paty’s class, whose child wasn’t even in attendance on the day of the lecture. He took to Facebook to brag about killing Paty and was killed in a confrontation with police soon thereafter.

Paty’s murder caused outrage all over France. Thousands turned out to protest in favor of free speech in Paris and other cities. High level politicians attended the protests, including Prime Minister Jean Castex and Education Minister Jean Michel-Blanquer. In a national ceremony on October 21st, French President Emmanuel Macron posthumously awarded Paty the Legion d’Honneur, the nation’s highest award, and said that Paty was “the face of the Republic”.  The French government order the closure of the Pantin mosque for at least six months and is investigating 50 French Muslim organizations for promoting hatred. At least 11 people have been detained in connection with the murder.

The closure of the Grand Mosque caused widespread condemnation of France and President Macron, including from Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. This rhetoric led Charlie Hebedo to publish a paper with Erdogan on its cover on Wednesday. Matt Bradley and Nancy Ing of NBC News describe the cover as Erdogan “lounging in his underwear, pulling up the skirt of a woman wearing a hijab to reveal her bottom”. Erdogan responded to the newspaper by saying “Macron is against Muslims. He is sowing seeds of hatred” and “Turkey will take necessary legal, diplomatic action” against the newspaper. 

On October 29th, less than 24 hours after the publishing of the Erdogan-covered newspaper, at the Notre Dame de Nice church a man beheaded two people and stabbed another to death while shouting “Allahu akbar”. The suspect has been identified as 21-year old Brahim Aouissaoui, a Tunisian migrant who arrived in Europe only a month ago. Aouissaoui was shot by police who entered the church and is being treated at the hospital. The Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, attributed the attack to “Islamic facism”. President Macron has since arrived in the city and is meeting with officials. Around the same time, a stabbing attack by an Afghan man was foiled in Lyon and another man in Avignon was shot dead after threatening police and civilians in the area with a handgun, while also shouting “Allahu akbar”. In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia a Saudi man attacked a guard at the French consulate, wounding him. The suspect was taken into custody. In response to today’s events President Macron announced that he will increase the number of French troops deployed to protect religious sites and schools from 3,000 to 7,000.

On Friday, October 30th, another stabbing attempt was stopped in Paris after the suspect was shot dead by police. Many details, including motive, about that attack are still unclear.

Lastly, yesterday, October 31st, a gunman shot and critically injured a priest at a Greek Orthodox church in the city of Lyon. A suspect was apprehended but later released after police found no evidence of his involved. The perpetrator remains at large. 

Extremism is clearly on the rise in France. All eyes are on President Macron to see how he deals with the issue. 

As always, stay safe and have a good one,


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