Professor Ellen Cannon

Professor Ellen Cannon

Dr. Ellen Cannon, Professor of Political Science and Jewish Studies at Northeastern Illinois University. Senior Research Fellow at ISGAP, the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism and Policy. Chair of the Midwest Interest Group of the Academic Engagement Network (AEN) combatting antisemitism and anti-Zionism on college  campuses. Regional Board member of the American Jewish Committee with a focus on combatting antisemitism and anti-Zionism on university and collage campuses. Research focus includes Soviet and Russian antisemitism and anti-Zionism; Anti-Jewish and Anti-Zionist Propaganda; BDS politics and policies; International Terrorism and Violence; American Jewish Politics; American Jewish Electorate.

On December 16, 2020, a panel of French judges found all 14 defendants guilty of involvement in the 2015 attacks on the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo, and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket in Paris.  As reported by James McAuley of the Washington Post, the long-awaited verdict followed a three-month trial that captivated the French public even amid a deadly pandemic. More than any other Western nation, France has been a constant target of Islamist terrorism in recent years:  more than 260 people have been killed in attacks since 2012.  Simultaneously, since 2012, France has suffered from a significant increase in the number and severity of anti-Semitic, and anti-Zionist hate crimes and terror attacks.  These form part of a rise in contemporary anti-Semitisms across most of Western Europe, with heightened expressions of anti-Semitic behaviors, attitudes, and attacks from radical Islamism, as well as Left-wing and Right-wing movements and parties.[1] 

     It is important to emphasize that there is a clear distinction between Islamism and Islamists on the one hand and the faith of Islam on the other. According to Bassam Tibi, “Islamism emanates from a political interpretation of Islam: it is based not on the religious faith of Islam but an ideological use of religion within the political realm.” This distinction is crucial, according to Tibi, as it underscores the fact that “the religious faith of Islam is not an obstacle to peace or a threat to the non-Muslim other. Islamism, on the other hand creates deep civilizational rifts between Muslims and non-Muslims…Islamism classifies all non-Muslims as infidels and thus enemies of Islam.” Furthermore, Islamism contributes to “polarization between Muslims and the non-Muslim world as well as generates ferocious infighting within the community of Islam.”[2]

     This article will limit its focus to examining the impact of Islamist terrorism on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket terror attacks of January 2015. It will be argued that the significance of the – three days of terrorism- that shook France to its core from January 7-9, 2015, must be understood within the framework of the rise of Islamist terror attacks in 2012. This rise in attacks, constitutes a “sea change” in the style, destructive intent, weaponry, and ideology- of terrorism in France from 2012-to the present. The “sea change” will be explored through the “Merah Affair”, an Islamist attack on southern France. When examining the “Merah Affair”, particular attention will be given to (1) exposure to extremist jihadist Salafist indoctrination; (2) family dysfunction; (3) the internationalization of domestic terrorism in France; (4) wide-spread publication of jihadist “playbooks” which provide required steps toward successful terror actions; (5) limited response by French terrorism officials.

French Jewry -Facing Contemporary Attacks:

     According to Noam Schimmel, author of the-” Loneliness” of French Jews, since 2012, France has suffered from a steady increase in the number of anti-Jewish hate crimes.[3]  France has Europe’s largest Jewish population, estimated at between 500,000-600,000 individuals. Paris has the highest population, followed by Marseilles, with 70,000 Jews, mostly from North Africa. Attacks of Jews in France have been particularly violent and more frequent than in other European countries. The climate of aggression against Jews continues at high incidences without precedent in the post- WWII era.[4] Attacks occur in multiple contexts, including private homes, supermarkets, schools, religious institutions, and public institutions. As a result, the interior Ministry of the French government and the Jewish Community Security Service (SPJC) have partnered to collect data on anti-Jewish acts in France. For example, the 2014 SPJC report showcased  a 100 percent increase in anti-Semitic threats and actions in the course of one year with a rise in violent actions and assaults. In 2014 alone, there were 851 such acts recorded.[5] The report further highlights the fact that Jews, while constituting less than 1 percent of the French population, are victims of most racist attacks in the country, with 51 percent of racist acts committed in 2014 targeting Jews.  Racist acts, excluding anti-Semitic acts recorded in 2014, decreased by 5 percent compared to 2013. Thus, anti-Jewish attacks have become the predominant form of racist attacks in France by 2014.[6]

     By the early 21st century, most Jews and Muslims in France, are of North African origin. Expressions of anti-Semitism were seen to rise during the Six-Day War of 1967; and the French anti-Zionist campaign of the 1970’s and 1980’s.[7]  By the 1990’s, surveys suggested an increase of stereotypical anti-Semitic beliefs among the general population, which coincided with the victory of the extreme right political party, National Front. Holocaust denial is evident during this period, as well.[8]

     The nature and the intensity of anti-Semitism in France was altered during the Second Intifada in Israel, resulting in anti-Zionism as a new form of anti-Semitism. Simultaneously, second- generation Muslim immigrants in France increasingly identified with the Palestinian cause, with some even identifying with radical Islamism. By 2000, political expressions of Jew-hatred and anti-Zionism increased based on attitudes toward the Israel-Palestine conflict, -as well as Islamism. [9] During this period, the French National Consultative Commission on Human Rights recorded high levels of anti-Semitic threats and actions from 2002-2004 and 2009. This commission defined “actions” as homicides, attacks and attempted attacks, arson, degradations, violence, assault and battery. Anti-Semitic threats included speech acts, threatening gestures and insults, graffiti, pamphlets, and emails.

     Many French Jews have chosen to emigrate from France, largely in response to this rise in insecurity and violation of their human rights and their rights as French citizens. The number of Jews who have emigrated to Israel in 2014, was the highest recorded since the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.

     How can one understand the depth of this hatred toward Jews?  David Nirenberg, Professor at the University of Chicago and the author of Anti-Judaism, has written about the ways in which the hatred is rarely, if ever, confined to its seeming object.  This has been true in the history of all anti-Semitism. “Within Islamic rhetoric,” Nirenberg states, “Judaism is not just the Jews; its capitalism, colonialism, Marxism, psycho analysis, America, homosexuality, Darwinism, and a range of modern threats in godliness.”[10] “For centuries, Muslims have used ‘Judaism’ as a way of criticizing each other.  In the eighteenth century, Sunnis called Shiites “the Jews of the community.” Beginning in the Middle Ages, we find Muslim leaders attacked by their opponents as Jews who deserve deposition and murder, much as Islamists referred to Sadat, after he visited Israel and dealt with Menachem Begin. Today, all sides in inter-Islamic power struggles try to represent their rivals as supporters of Israel. For the hardcore Islamist, Judaism represents not just the Jewish people but the corrosive, materialist, modernity that threatens piety and godly rule.”[11]

2012 Terrorist Attacks: The “Sea-Change” in Islamism’s Terror Footprint to Holy Jihad in France.

     France had experienced a wide variety of modern manifestations of terrorism: anti-colonist terrorism in the 1950’s; right-wing terrorism in the 1960’s; left-wing and Separatist terrorism in the 1970’s and 1980’s; international and homegrown Islamic terrorism in the 1980’s-1990’s.[12] However, the terror attacks in Toulouse in March, 2012, now coined the “Merah Affair” establishes a “sea-change” in French politics.  According to Kepel and Jardin, “The Merah Affair”, puts a” dramatic end to the 16-year illusion that France was immune to jihadist terrorism on its soil,- in contrast to Spain and Great Britain, which had been the target of major attacks in 2004 and 2005.”[13]

     In March 2012, the young French-Algerian, Mohammed Merah, executed a series of shootings in Montauban and Toulouse, Southern France. According to news reports, his shooting spree started on March 11, when he methodically opened fire on unsuspecting people in Montauban and Toulouse.  According to police negotiators, his motive was to avenge the deaths of Palestinian children in Israeli occupied territories, France’s military involvement in Afghanistan and a year-old French law banning full-face Muslim veils. On March 15, Merah shot two French soldiers, both Muslims, in the head and grievously wounded another, a black Frenchman whose family was from the Antilles. Videos of the incident show him shouting “Allahu Akbar,” or God is Great,”- as he fired. [14]

     Four days later, he launched a horrendous attack on the Ozar Hatorah school in Toulouse. This was the deadliest attack against Jews in France since a 1982 assault on a Paris kosher restaurant. In 1980, a terrorist group attack a Jewish synagogue on the Rue Copernic, killing four and wounding 40. At Ozar Hatorah school, Merah “shot everything he could see: children, adults, – everything.[15] Among those killed was Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, 30, a religious instructor, his two sons, Arye, 6, and Gabriel, 3, and Miriam Monsonego,8, the director’s daughters school. The assailant pursued his last victim, an 8-year-old girl, into the concrete courtyard, seizing and grabbing her by her hair. A member of France’s most prominent Jewish association, Conseil Representatif des Institutions juives de France (CRIF), who viewed the video of the attack, said that while Merah was “still holding the girl, the killer changed weapons to a .45 caliber gun. He shot her in the head and left.”[16]  The four victims were dual Israeli- French citizens. Following the shooting, French authorities ordered heightened security and surveillance for all religious schools.

     Merah was an internationally trained terrorist. He was a second-generation member of an immigrant family that failed to adapt to French society, and together with his brother, was exposed to extremist, jihadist Salafist indoctrination. He was under the French intelligence radar since travelling twice to Pakistan and Afghanistan for operational training in 2010 and 2011. Merah was arrested in Kandahar and deported to France. According to ICT’s Monitoring Group, Merah was linked to the jihadi group Forsane Alizza- (The Knights of Pride),-a radical Salafist group that operated in France and was disassembled in late 2012. Based on a video made by the group, and filmed in Paris, the group decries Islamophobia and what it called “the campaign of incitement and persecution being engaged by public figures, led by President Sarkozy, against France’s Muslim population and against “the group.” This group does not recognize France’s secular democratic regime and is working to see Islamic law implemented in France. The group comprises of “fundamentalist Muslims who are more than willing to take actions against French society, Muslims and non-Muslims alike.” A chief target of the group from among non-Muslims- (and by those whose actions the group feels embattled), -is the Jewish community and everything the group interprets as Zionism.”[17] Furthermore, the Forsane Allizza group promoted creating a fortress for Islam, which can only be achieved through battle.  Lastly, they asserted that a good society, could only be established for Muslims through combat and physical struggle, not through education.

    Merah’s family life added to the radicalization of Mohammed and his siblings. Merah’s older brother, Abdelkader Merah, mentored his younger brother and influenced his evolvement in jihadi activities. Abdelkader described in detail the depth to which anti-Semitism and jihadism were embedded in the family dynamics and upbringing. According to Abdelkader, “as children, all the Merah kids were taught, Arabs are born to hate Jews.” According to Mitch Silber, “Merah’s sister, Souuad, a fellow extremist, was also reported to have provided money and mobile phones to Mohammed in the months leading up to the attacks.” She stated that she was proud of her brother Mohammed’s jihadi acts as “Jews, and all those who massacre Muslims, I detest them.”[18]

     Seth Jones documents other 2012 Islamist terror developments that reflect the “sea-change” in France’s history of domestic jihadism. These included the rise of the Cannes-Torcy cell, a jihadist network identified by French security services after their involvement in a grenade attack against a Jewish grocery store in Sarcelles. The internationalization of domestic terrorism, whereby French extremists go abroad for additional terror training and networking, also increased during this period. By the end of 2012, Jones notes that more than 200 French citizens traveled to fight in Iraq, Syria, and Pakistan, exceeding the number citizens that had gone to Afghanistan and Bosnia in the 1980’s and 1990’s. Mohammed Merah was among these travellers. Following France’s air attacks in Iraq, jihadist terrorists further responded to the jihadist call by attacking French civilians. [19]

     The accumulated impact of these factors resulted in a paradigm shift in the French security strategy from a focus on lone wolves, to an acknowledgment that France had entered a new phase of danger that was more sophisticated, more ideological, and far more dangerous than previous waves. Kepel and Jardin, as well as Stein and Schweitzer echo this sentiment, suggesting that the Mehar affair is to be understood “in terms of a retro-colonial backlash.” With this affair, France entered straight into the third wave of jihadism. This third wave was advocated by the Syrian jihadist and thinker Musab-al Suri in his widely read 1600-page manifesto of 2004, The Global Islamic Resistance Call.[20]

      Al Suri’s manifesto, directly impacts the evolution of French jihadism as well as jihadism throughout Europe. More than a philosopher, Al-Suri provides a detailed strategy and instructive plan that aspired to normalize and legitimize jihadi attacks in the 21st century. His jihadi theory is based on two key facets: (1) solo jihad, defined as the act of individual jihadists organizing and carrying out attacks in connection to or with support from an established group, and (2) travel to and the establishment of “open jihadist fronts,” defined as the outright struggle for territory in areas of the world with conditions suitable for sustained urban and guerilla warfare.[21]  His ideas serve as a precursor to the ideology of ISIS and their eventual break from Al Qaeda. Contemporary scholars and security experts agree that this manifesto served as a playbook for individual jihadists, including Mohammed Merah, as well as provide greater insight into acts that were committed in revenge for American hegemony and its attacks on the Muslim world, as well as Zionism, and the power and influence of Jews.[22] Al-Suri writes:

     “Any change of balance in favor of the resistance and jihad, removes the influence of American hegemony in places that have the circumstances of open fronts, and as I mentioned before, brings back the issue of open confrontation to liberate the land establishing the political and legal foundations of Muslim power a goal which we must strive for whenever the opportunity allowed.”[23]

     Regarding Jews, Al-Suri writes:

     “One must note the political cause that will be the issue of struggle and rallying to confront the enemy. For it must be a matter of throwing out the American invasion in the area, and a matter of the conflict with the Jews, a matter of throwing out the infidels from the Arabian Peninsula, a matter of oil and resources, a matter of American hubris, and the tyranny that came with the invaders and their allies in the area.”[24]

     Al-Suri further argues that North Africa, especially Morocco, fulfils most of the conditions of a revolutionary jihadi climate. “With economic invasion,” Al-Suri argues, “Western and Jewish control provide the golden key to spark jihad. In addition, there are many weapon resources in the areas, as well as a variety of borders, coasts, and pathways. In addition, Israel serves as a global motivator for Islamists, and the American invasion adds a great revolutionary dimension to the objective of the jihadists.”[25]

     How would counterterrorism experts view the overall impact of Al-Suri’s directives on French Muslim neighborhoods? Yossef Bodansky, the former Director of the Congressional Taskforce on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare for the US House of Representatives from 1988-2004, provides insightful analysis. According to Bodansky, there occurred a fundamental strategic change in jihadist strategy in 2004, the year Al-Suri’s The Global Islamic Resistance Call, was published. Bin Ladin and Ayman al Zawahiri moved away from their focus on “spectacular attacks” on a “far enemy” to the development of “European jihadist networks” that would be run by trained, influential, and charismatic imams, intellectuals, and community operatives who could capitalize on the economic deprivation and social decay of French Muslim neighborhoods across Europe, in order to alienate and radicalize the Muslim communities, especially the youth.[26]

     Furthermore, according to Bodansky, the key to this new Islamist grassroots strategy was to intentionally self-inflict isolation and segregation of the rapidly growing disenfranchised Muslim communities from the rest of society. The objective was to build distrust and hostility toward the government and society in the name of radical Islam. This distrust would then set the stage for the grassroots leadership to transform the feelings of hopelessness regarding their future, to embracing radical Islam, which provides meaning, belonging, and programs that serve the community.

      This grassroots transition, according to Bodansky, begins “with incessant pressure to isolate the population from society in the name of maintaining the authentic Islamic way of life. Starting with a focus on mundane aspects of life such as food and Muslim dress code, the transition then moves toward the eradication of Western influence. This phase is accomplished by grassroot leaders creating separate school systems that cut children off from non-Muslim students. Here, students are taught that Sharia law is above the law of the country and aspire for it to one day become the law of the land. Graduates of these institutions are, for the most part, unskilled and find work in low- paying menial jobs, adding to their hopelessness.[27]

    At the same time, Bodansky found that French intelligence and security officials failed to rise to the challenge posed by jihadism:

      “The main impediments facing them have been the political correctness and timidity of the Government. Most important is the overall reticence by the French security authorities to confront the overall phenomenon of Islamist-jihadist radicalization of the Muslim community at large, and particularly, the dominant role of the Mosque and Islam in this process. Simply put, the French liberal authorities fear more political face-off with inherently anti-French Islamists leaders than the alienation and jihadist radicalization of the next generation of French Muslim youth.”[28]

2017: The Trial of the “Merah Affair”   

     On November 2, 2017, five years after Mohammed Merah’s terrorist rampage- and subsequent death, the decision from the highest French criminal court was reached against Merah’s oldest brother, Abdelkader.  Abdelkader was charged with criminal terrorist conspiracy and complicity in the attack, while Fattah Malki, was accused of providing weapons that Mohammed Merah used. Abdelkader was acquitted of charges of complicity, but found guilty of criminal terrorist conspiracy, receiving 20 years in prison. Fattah Malki was handed a 14-year sentence.[29]

     The atmosphere in France was tense, as well as fixated on the trial. Since the 2012 terror attacks in Toulouse, nearly 250 people were killed on French soil. In 2015, two of the most historic terror attacks took place-: The Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher market attack, followed months later with the November 2015 attacks in Paris, which resulted in the deaths of 147 individuals and wounded hundreds. At the same time significant security concerns remained unattended. Many young people continued to travel to join ISIS groups and other extremist fighters in Iraq and Syria. The French daily, Le Monde, noted that due to European unwieldiness and sensitive debates over data protection, the creation of a Passenger Name Record (PNR) was only approved by the European Parliament in mid-2016, and modifications to the Schengen border code necessary to enlarge border checks to European citizens only came into effect in April, 2017.

     According to Mathieu Guidere, Professor of Islamic Studies and author of Islamic Fundamentalism, France was not the same since 2012. “France has entered a new era with the Merah killings. Beginning in 2012, we entered an age of terrorism where before we believed ourselves to be protected. The Merah killings was a turning point in French history. In attacking, killing at the same time soldiers and Jewish citizens, Merah smashed two taboos and opened a path psychologically for those who would come after, who saw a model in Merah and who said to themselves they could do the same thing if not worse.”

     Kepel and Jardin agree, detailing the extent to which the Merah affair set the stage for the terror attacks of 2015. They write:

     “Merah’s killing spree was the first in a series that was raised to new heights by the massacres committed in January 2015 at the offices of Charlie Hebdo, in November 2015 at the Bataclan nightclub, and on Bastille Day 2016 in Nice. The first massacre in 2012 thrust France into a global web of jihadism in which social dereliction, the colonial past, political disillusionment, and Islamist provocation were interwoven. Suddenly the taboo on murder for political/religious cause was swept away by a new radical Salafist doctrine that redefined the boundary line between good and evil.”[30]

     The subsequent impact of the Merah affair and trial on French society is captured by Rachel Donadio:

     “More than two men were on trial for assisting in the Toulouse attack. France itself was on trial. The justice system, its rule of law, its intelligence gathering, its police, its education system, its troubled inner cities, its failures of “integration,” its centralized and often imperious state institutions, its tradition of Cartesian logic, its republican ideal of citizenship that does not bow to ethnic religious identity – these were also on trial. The trial made clear how entrenched the problems are and just how hard it is to fight them in court.”[31]

     France remained unaware of the extent to which the 2012 Merah attacks created not only a martyr for French jihadists to follow, but a framework or blueprint for future terror attacks that would become the norm by 2015.

2015: From “Sea-Change” to the new norm: Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher Supermarket Attacks

     January 7-9, 2015, marked a turning point in French history. It represented three days of extreme terrorism: killing 20 people, including three terrorists, in three separate attacks. Known as the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket terror attacks, this period reflects the terrorist phase that began in 2012. Three assailants were killed in shootouts with police, leaving only accomplices to face the trial, in the Fall of 2020. In terms of the events, and assailants, the terror attacks reflect the ideology and strategy of Islamist jihad which by 2015, fully in place, readily passed on to generations of French-born youths, and producing legions of homegrown terrorists on French soil.

     Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical newspaper, had a history of attracting considerable controversy for its satire and cartoons of religious figures, political leaders, and ideologies. The 2015 terror attack, killing 12 and wounding 11 staff members, occurred as a reaction of the magazine’s latest cartoon depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, which some Muslims viewed as blasphemous and punishable by death. The two assailants- brothers, Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, fit the profile of radicalized Muslim-youth that adopted radical jihadism over time, and intensified during their time in prison. While, in prison they befriended Amedy Coulibaly, who would go on to become the assailant of the Hyper Cacher kosher supermarket attack on January 9, 2015.  Coulibaly’s jihadism resulted in him pledging allegiance to ISIS.[32]

     The three terrorists’ radicalization journey from amateur’s to ruthless jihadists in France was documented in great detail by New York Times journalists Rukminji Callimachi and Jim Yardley.  The thousands of pages of legal documents obtained by the New York Times, including minutes of interrogations, summaries of phone taps, intercepted jailhouse letters, and a catalog of images and religious texts found on the laptops of Cherif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, revealed an arc of radicalization that saw them go from timid youngsters to professional terrorists.  One source of this influence came from their radical imams at the Adda’wa Mosque. In particular, the of doctrinaire Farid Benyettou offered them lessons in religion, as well as encouraged young men to join the jihad. Benyettou, served as the “pipeline” for young French Muslims to travel to join al-Zarqawi’s network in Iraq, which would soon become Al Qaeda’s franchise in the region.  Court documents revealed that by October 2004, the two brothers regularly met with Benyettou to discuss the religious justifications for suicide attacks. They talked about how to load a bomb into the truck and drive it into an American base.  Cherif was eager to develop a plot to attack France. “He never stopped talking about the Jewish shops, or attacking them in the street in order to kill them.”[33]

2020: Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Cacher Supermarket Trial

     Five years after the attacks of January, 2015, the trial began on September 2, 2020. Because the three primary perpetrators were killed, the trial focused on those accused of aiding the assaults on Charlie Hebdo and the kosher market. The trial gripped the attention of the French public. Not since Klaus Barbie’s trials, the former Nazi Gestapo chief of Lyon, had France experienced such wide spread interest and concern. The trial not only forced France to confront the growth of home-grown terrorism and balance between security and civil liberty, but also the intense public debates over secularism, freedom of expression, and the integration of France’s Muslim minority. The seriousness of the situation and the trial itself was expressed by the then-president of France, François Hollande, who in an interview said, “I had been afraid that French society was going to “dislocate” after the attacks because that is what the terrorists intended: to divide the French…They lost.”[34]

     The defendants of the trial were accused of either criminal conspiracy or terrorist complicity. Ali Polat, was accused and convicted of having provided weapons for both Coulibaly and the Karachi brothers.The judge handed him the heaviest sentence of the trial:-30 years in prison,  20  of which was without parole. Thirteen others were found guilty of involvement in the deadly attacks.

     Among the most chilling moments in the trail was the testimony of Zarie Sibony, the cashier at the Hyper Cacher supermarket. Still terrified, she described the experience as the most frightening experience of her life. Once the shooting started, she hid under the counter, but Coulibaly confronted her. She testified the following:

     “I was sitting on the floor and he was there in front of me with his arms, two Kalashnikovs, one in each hand and he said a phrase I will never forget: “You, you’re not dead yet. You don’t want to die?” And he fired. I saw the impact of the bullet in my till and I understood that I had almost died. I still do not remember how he missed me when I was in front of him. At first, I thought he was a robber, and I told him to take the money in the register. He said, “You think I’m doing this for the money? The Kouachi brothers and I are part of the same group. You Jews like life too much when what’s important is death. I’m here to die. You are Jews and French, the two things I hate the most.” Coulibaly then became irritated by the moaning of Yohan Cohen, who was on the floor shot. Coulibaly then asked the hostages, if he should kill Cohen. I answered, “of course not”.  Coulibaly later would shoot Cohen again and killed him. The terrorist then shot Youav Hattab, and then laughed and kicked him in the face saying, “He doesn’t even know how to use a weapon.”” [35]

     According to journalist Marc Weitzman, the threat to the Jewish community could have been worse. Investigators viewing surveillance camera footage found a still photo of Coulibaly and his girlfriend, taken in late August outside of a Jewish school. The surveillance footage shows the couple approaching the school guard and asked if “it was true that there were Jews inside the building?” The security guard found their behavior so strange he asked them to leave.[36]

     The security situation during and after the conclusion of the trial remained on high alert. One factor leading to the increased concern was the decision of the Charlie Hebdo staff to reprint the political cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed at the start of the trial. As a result, Al Qaeda called for the “murder of those who disseminated the caricatures. Marie Bret, the head of Human resources for Charlie Hebdo, was forced to leave her home twelve days prior to the start of the trial, after security guards received detailed and precise threats against her.[37] On September 25, 2020, a knife- wielding assailant wounded two people in Paris near the former Charlie Hebdo office.[38]

     This incident was followed by the barbaric beheading of Samuel Paty, a middle school history teacher who announced in his class in October that he would show some of the caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed first published in Charlie Hebdo in 2015. Mr. Paty had an established reputation for teaching the importance of tolerance and pluralism, and had previously dedicated learning sessions to Islamic culture, history, and literature. The teacher was chosen by the jihadists as a result of a Twitter mob started by one of the students’ fathers who fabricated a story that incited others. [39] In another incident that took place near the Eiffel Tower, police arrested two women on charges of attacking two others, yelling slurs and telling them “go back home” and “this is not your home”.[40]

     Then, in October 2020, on the heels of the beheading of Mr. Paty, another deadly and barbaric terror attack took place in Nice, at the Notre Dame Basilica.  A 21-year-old Tunisian man entered the basilica and attacked and virtually beheaded a 60-year-old woman who died immediately. This was followed by attacking and knifing a second woman who died on the way to the hospital. The third victim, a devout Catholic who worked at the basilica for more than ten years as a lay leader, had his throat slit. [41]

     The intensification of jihadist terrorism from 2012, the year of Merah affair, through 2020, the year of the Charlie Hebdo and Hyper Casher supermarket trial, is clear. Evidence of growing insecurity among both the French public and the French Jewish community continues today. Following the verdicts in the 2020 trial, as well as the growing political threat posed by Le Pen’s National Front, President Emmanuel Macron delivered a one-hour speech regarding the growing dangers presented by radical Islam to the future viability of the French Republic. His proposed policy to promote and preserve “republican principles” by reducing the threat posed by radical Islam was introduced to the Parliament at the end of December, 2020.

      The uneasiness experienced by the French Jewish community also intensified. The latest survey on French anti-Semitism taken by the American Jewish Committee in partnership with Fondapol, found that anti-Semitism is pervasive in everyday life. Seventy-seven percent of Jews and fifty-three percent of the general public believe that anti-Jewish hatred is on the rise. Rising levels of anti-Semitism in France have resulted in a significant percentage of French Jews to take actions to protect themselves, including steps to hide their Jewish identity by not displaying Jewish symbols, or refraining from wearing clothing that would identify them as Jews. Forty- three percent of French Jews also noted that they intentionally avoid certain locations.  French Jewry thus recognizes that Islamist ideologies, in addition to Far Right and Far Left ideologies, remain highly problematic. [42]  At the same time, the French public is generally in agreement with the Jewish community, in viewing anti-Semitism as a problem affecting society as a whole.

     As the French government takes positive measures to combat this situation, it remains to be seen whether the extent to which government policies and programs will work.


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International Institute for Counter Terrorism, (2012).” Forsane Alizza: Background Brief,” ICT’s Jihadi Websites Monitoring Group, Insights, (March 2012), p. 6

Jewish Community Security Services, (2014).  “Report on Anti-Semitism in France,” (2014).

Jones, Seth, and Toucas,B. and Markusen,M. (2018), The Evolving Terrorism Threat in Europe,” CSIS, (2018), p.2)

Kepel, G. and Jardin, A. (2017), Terrorism in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West, Princeton University Press, Princeton, N.J., (2017). P. 54.

Kepel, G, and Witts, T, and Levitt,M. (2017). “The Rise of Jihad in Europe: Views from France,” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, (2017).

McAuley, J. (2020). “With Charlie Hebdo Trial Underway Does ‘Je suis Charlie’ Still Resonate in France,” Washington Post, (9/20/2020).

Nassiter, Adam. (2020).” In French Beheading, Students were paid to point out the Teacher,” New York Times, (9/22/20) p. A9.

Navon, E. (2015). “France, Israel, and the Jews: The End of an Era?” Israel journal of Foreign Affairs (2015), pp 201-211.

Remnick, D. (2015)” The Shadow of Anti-Semitism in France,” The New Yorker, (1/13/15).

Schmmel, N. (2016). The:”Loneliness” of French Jews: Racism, Bigotry, and Discrimination. Humanity in Action, (2016), pp 888-899.

Silber, M. (2019).” Terrorist Attacks Against Jewish Targets in the West (2012-2019): The Atlantic Divide Between European and American Attackers,” Combatting Terrorism Center, v. 12, #5, (2019).

Sivan, E. (2009) . “Muslim Anti-Semitism: The Challenge and Possible Responses,” The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Jerusalem, (2009).

Smith, C. (2006) “Jews in France Feel Sting as Anti-Semitism Surges Among Children of Immigrants, “New York Times, (March 26, 2006).

Stewart, S. (2012).  “Tactical Realities of the Toulouse Attacks,” Security Weekly, (April 5,2012).

Stein, S. and Schwitzer, Y. (2012). “The Terror Attacks in Toulouse: Aberration or Symptom? INSS, Insight, # 226, (April 2, 2012).

Rosenthal, John. (2016).” Merah: The Untold Story of a French Jihadist,” World Affairs, Winter, v. 178, (2016), pp 50-60.

The Times of Israel, (2020). “Charlie Hebdo: Fourteen Guilty in 2015 Paris Terror Attacks Trial.” (2020).

Tibi, Bassam. (2012), Islamism and Islam, Yale University Press, New Haven, (2012)

Toucas, Boris. (2018). “France’s Determined Struggle Against Salafi Jihadism: Lessons Learned,” CSIS Briefs, (August, 2018) pp.1-7.

Willsher, K. (2020). “Cashier Tells of 4 Hour Ordeal in Paris Supermarket Siege,” The Guardian,9/23/2020.

Ynet news, (2015). Coulibaly’s Interview During Siege at Kosher Market,” (1/15/2015).

[1] For an excellent examination of the impact of Islamism and Muslim anti-Semitism see Emmanuel Sivan’s “Muslim-Anti-Semitism: The Challenge and Possible Responses, (The Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, Jerusalem, 2009)

[2] Bassam Tibi, Islamism and Islam, (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2012), p. vii.

[3] Noam Schimmel, The” Loneliness “of French Jews: French Responses to Anti-Jewish Racism, Bigotry, and Discrimination, (Humanity in Action, 2016), pp 888-899

[4] European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, Anti-Semitism-Overview of Data Available in the European Union, 2004-2014, (European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights, 2015), pp 21 and 36.

[5] Jewish Community Security Service, Report on Anti-Semitism in France, (Jewish Community Security Service, 2014).

[6] Noam Schimmel, The “Loneliness” of French Jews: French Responses to Anti-Jewish Racism, Bigotry and Discrimination, (Humanity in Action, 2016) pp. 888-899.

[7] Emmanuel Navon, “France, Israel, and the Jews: The End of an Era?’, Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs (2015), pp 201-211

[8] Jewish Community Security Service, op cit. (2014)

[9] Craig Smith, “Jews in France Feel Sting as Anti-Semitism Surges Among Children of Immigrants, The New York Times,(March 26, 2006)

[10] David Remnick, “The Shadow of Anti-Semitism in France,” The New Yorker, (1/13/15).

[11] Remnick, 2015.

[12] Jean-Pierre Filiu, “Iraqi Networks of the 2000’s: Matrix of 2015 Terror attacks?”,(Perspectives on Terrorism, volume 10, issue 6,2016), pp 97-101 .

[13] Gilles Kepel and Antoine Jardin, Terror in France: The Rise of Jihad in the West,(Princeton University Press,2017), p. 54

[14] Scott Stewart, “Tactical Realities of the Toulouse”, Security Weekly, (April 5, 2012); Edward Cody, “Mohammed Merah, face of the new terrorism”, Washington Post, (March 22,2012); Internatinal Institute for Counter-Terrorism, “Forsane Alizza:Background Brief,” ICT’s Jihadi Websites Monitoring Group/Insights,(March 2012);Harriet Alexander and Fiona Govan, “Toulouse shootings: The making of a French jihadi killer with a double life,” Telegraph (London), (March 24, 2012)

[15] Scott Sayare, and Steven Erlanger, “4 Killed at Jewish School in Southwestern France, The New York Times, (March 16,2012)

[16] Steven Elanger ans Scott Sayare,” Killings at Jewish School in France mimic earlier attacks in the region,” The Seattle Times, (March 17, 2012)

[17] International Institute for Counter-Terrorism, “Forsane Alizza: Background Brief,” ICT’s Jihadi Websites Monitoring Group Insights, (March 2012), p. 6.

[18] Mitchell Silber, “Terrorist Attacks Against Jewish Targets in the West (2012-2019): The Atlantic Divide Between European and American Attackers,”(Combating Terrorism Center, 2019, volume 12, issue 5

[19] Seth Jones, Boris Toucas, and Maxwell Markusen, “The Evolving Terrorism Threat in Europe, CSIS, (2018_ p. 2 and John Rosenthal, “Merah: The Untold Story of a French Jihadist,” World Affairs, (Winter, volume 178, 2016) pp.50-60.

[20] Gilles Kepel, Tamara Wittes, and Matthew Levitt, “The Rise of Jihad in Europe: Views from France”, (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, ( 2017) and Shimon Stein and Yoram Schweitzer, “The Terror Attacks in Toulouse: Aberration or Symptom? INSS, (Insight, no. 226, April 2, 2012)

[21] See INSIGHT Blog: on Terrorism and Extremism.

[22] Gilles Kepel, Tamara Wittes, and Matthew Levitt, “The Rise of Jihad in Europe: Views from France,” (The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, 2017)

[23] IBID.

[24] IBID. See Paul Cruickshank and Mohannad Hage Ali, (2007) “Abu Musab Al Suri: Architect of the New Al Qaeda,” Studies in Conflict and Terrorism, (vol 30, #1,) pp 1-14

[25] IBID, and Phillip Holtmann, Abu-Musab Al-Suri’s Jihad Concept, (Moshe Dayan Center, 2012)

[26] Yossef Bodansky, “The Paris Jihads, Ready or Not, Has Begun, and will Widen.” ISPW Strategy Series: Focus on Defense and International Security, (Issue 39, 2015)

[27] IBID

[28] IBID, p. 3; Also see Marc Hecker and Elie Tenenbaum, “France v Jihadism: The Republic in a New Age of Terror,” Notes de l’Ifri, IFRI, (January, 2017). The authors note that “despite shortfalls French domestic intelligence services have thwarted at least 15 terror plots since January 2015 as well as 69 counter-terrorism operations have been conducted from abroad since Janaury 2013 by France’s external intelligence which have helped to prevent attacks on French soil. At the same time the French jihadi threat is “massively increasing” and the number of cases has quintupled since 2012.

[29]Boris Toucas, “France’s Determined Struggle Against Salafi Jihadism: Lessons Learned,” CSIS Briefs, (August ,2018) pp. 1-7.

[30] Kepel and Jardin, op.cit,p. 5

[31] Rachel Donadio, “A Terrorists Brother and France on Trial,” The Atlantic, (2017)

[32] Aurelien Breeden, Constant Meheut, “Trial Over January 2015 Attacks open in Paris,” New York Times, 9/2/2020.; During the siege Coulibaly did an interview with local television stating that he targeted the Jews to defend Muslims, notably Palestinians. He went onto say that his action was revenge for the Syrian government actions and against Western coalition actions in Mali, Iraq and Afghanistan. “Kosher supermarket attack victims to be laid to rest in Israel,” ynet news,January 11, 2015)

[33] Rukminji Callimachi and Jim Yardley, “From Amateur to Ruthless Jihadist in France,” New York Times, (January 15, 2015)

[34] Aurelien Breeden, Constant Meheut, op.cit, (9.2/2020)

[35] Kim Willsher, “Cashier tells of 4 Hour Ordeal in Paris Supermarket Siege,” The Guardian, (9/23/2020) and The Times of Israel, (9/23/2020); “Charlie Hebdo: Fourteen guilty in 2015 Paris terror attacks trial.”BBC, 12/16/2020

[36] Marc Weitzman” Kosher Supermarket Gunman Caught on Tape Casing Jewish School in August,” Tablet, 1/23/2015.

[37] James McAuley, “With Charlie Hebdo Trial Underway does ‘Je suis Charlie” still resonate in France,” Washington Post. 9/20/20.

[38] A. Breeden and C. Meheut, “Two Wounded in Paris Knife Attack Near Charlie Hebdo’s Former Office, New York Times, (9/26/20) p. A7.

[39] Laurent Dubreuil, “Islamism Converges with Cancel Culture,” Wall Street Journal, (October 26, 2020) p. 17.

[40] Adam Nassiter, “In French Beheading, Students were paid to point out the Teacher,” New York Times,(September 22/2020) p.A9.

[41] “France Attack, What we know About the Stabbings in Nice,” BBC, October 20, 2020)

[42] “Top 3 Takeaways from AJC’s Survey on Antisemitism in France, (January 21, 2020) survey-on -antisemitism-in France
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