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Saturday 9 December 2023 Dublin: 11°C
AP/Press Association Images

Isis sows seeds of inter-ethnic conflict to give its perverted ideology some sort of twisted logic

Security expert Tom Clonan writes from France, where he and his family were holidaying when Thursday night’s attack happened in Nice.

I HAVE BEEN travelling to the south of France for 17 years with my family. We stay in rented accommodation half way between Marseilles and Nice.

The people of Provence are quite like the Irish. They are friendly and warm and love to celebrate.

Every week there is a celebration in the coastal towns and villages throughout the region – everything from festivals to mark the harvesting of grapes, melons, figs and cherries to national holidays such as Bastille Day.

There were 30,000 French citizens crammed onto the Promenade des Anglais and nearby beach on Thursday evening.

Like the Irish, the French revere the family. Thousands on Thursday were family groups – from grandparents to toddlers – enjoying the balmy evening and fireworks on the seafront.

At 10.30pm, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, drove a 20-ton truck through a barrier onto the Promenade des Anglais and proceeded to run down hundreds of innocent men, women and children.

France Truck Attack AP / Press Association Images People react near the scene where a truck mowed through revelers in Nice AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

Eyewitnesses say he drove at speeds of up to 50km per hour, zig-zagging to kill as many people as possible.

I’m familiar with the promenade and had been there earlier in the week with my own family.

As one of my four children is a wheelchair user, I park close to the sea-front in the blue painted disabled bays.

I shudder to think of my own family corralled on the promenade – like a boardwalk of sorts – with a drop to the beach on one side and street furniture and stalls to the other.

The options for escape would have been difficult with a massive truck bearing down and weaving through the confines of the promenade.

Earlier this year, prior to the Euro 2016 tournament, I stated in columns for and on national radio that it would be unlikely for Islamic State or a lone wolf attacker to target football stadia or fanzones.

I predicted that Islamist terrorists would prefer ‘softer’ targets with little or no security. I suggested an attack on a campsite or other resort area would be more likely. I could never have imagined an attack as brutal, as barbaric, or as heartless as Thursday’s incident though.

In the Charlie Hebdo massacre and in the Paris and Brussels attacks, the targets were mostly adults. Journalists, police officers and commuters – or beautiful young men and women enjoying themselves in the Bataclan Theatre.

The Nice attacker targeted children and family groups. His actions represent an assault on our most precious values. Islamic State have celebrated this attack on our way of life.

Whatever Bouhlel’s motivation, his modus operandi was similar in some respects to previous Islamic State attacks.

A hybrid attack

He weaponised a vehicle – in much the same way the 9/11 attackers used planes to kill thousands of innocent New Yorkers. He was also carrying a firearm.  

His actions therefore constituted a ‘hybrid’ attack of the ‘marauding’ kind used to describe Islamic State outrages. It was fast moving and employed a combination of both a firearm and a massive vehicle to plough through a large crowd of defenceless citizens. 

The attack started at approximately 10.30 pm. In just a few short minutes, Bouhlel managed to plough his vehicle a distance of about 1,900 metres. 

Like the Bataclan Theatre incident, the attack was brought to a halt by French police using standard small caliber handguns.

They did not hesitate and footage shows them firing repeatedly into the cab of Bouhlel’s truck.

This is the lesson that the French authorities have learned from recent terror attacks.  Such attacks cannot be prevented.

Who could have imagined or anticipated Bouhlel’s intentions? Who could have predicted that this petty criminal would behave with such brutality and with a suicidal propensity?

In these circumstances, this being the nature of Islamist extremist attacks, the only thing the authorities can hope to do is close the attacks down as soon as possible. For this reason, front line police, with standard issue sidearms are the frontline in defence against such assaults.

Bouhlel was not shot with a high velocity assault rifle or by members of a special forces unit. This year, for the first time in France, I have seen members of the local police – the Police Nationale – patrolling in groups of three and four.

I have seen them wearing body armour with automatic weapons highly visible. This is part of the price that France must pay for the threat posed by Islamist extremists.

This year in France, there are posters in the windows of the local supermarket – explaining with illustrations and drawings – what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.


The posters explain how to try and get cover from fire. And to approach the police and army slowly – not to run towards them – with your hands outstretched before you.

I was saddened to see my children stop and stare at the images. My youngest asking me why the ‘boys and girls’ were running.

One of my French friends, whose family originally came from Tunisia, confided in me that there is increased tension and hostile scrutiny for young Muslims in the aftermath of these attacks.

Like the Irish in England during the Troubles, millions of innocent Muslims deplore these terrorist attacks and are conscious of the resentment and suspicion that contaminates communities in their wake.

This is one of the aims of Islamic State – to sow the seeds of inter-ethnic conflict to give their perverted ideology some sort of twisted logic.

My teenage children told me of last night’s attack as news broke through digital media.  My eldest asked me about security at Marseilles Airport.

“Will we be safe when we are going home?”

Spain France Truck Attack Reaction AP / Press Association Images AP / Press Association Images / Press Association Images

I have observed the French military in Marseilles Airport and the security arrangements there. They do not inspire confidence. But, the French people do inspire confidence.

France will survive this cycle of violence and emerge as a stronger, safer and more pluralist republic.

If such an attack were to take place in Ireland, however, our response would be woefully inadequate.

This is through no fault of An Garda Síochána and other first responders. It is a consequence of years of austerity and the erosion of public services.

As I said earlier this year, the next Islamist attack will be different. It will target weakness.

More attacks will take place in France and in Britain also.

The Irish government must face up to its duty of care towards our citizens in this regard with considerable investment in our policing, security and medical structures.

‘Someone got on the piano and started to play Imagine’: Moments of kindness after horrific Nice attack

Terrorist in Nice truck attack named as Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel

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