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French resolve

Interview: Michael KniggeJanuary 8, 2015

The attack on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo will not push Paris to alter its Middle East policy, a French foreign policy scholar has told DW. Instead it could lead to even closer security cooperation with Washington.

Trauer nach Anschlag auf Charlie Hebdo in Paris
Image: Getty Images/C. Koall

Bruno Tertrais is a senior research fellow at the Fondation pour la Recherche Stratégique (FRS) in Paris.

DW: France has played a very active role in the Middle East in recent years first by strongly supporting the anti-Assad rebels and later by joining the US-led military campaign against the "Islamic State" in Iraq. Will the attack on Charlie Hebdo affect France's Middle East policy?

Bruno Tertrais: Absolutely not. If anything I think it will reinforce France's determination to fight by all available means against the pernicious influence of extreme jihadism and that includes of course fighting Daesh in Iraq [Arab acronym for Islamic State - eds.].

Experts have been warning for some time of the danger of so called home-grown Islamist fighters. The Charlie Hebdo massacre is the third time in three years that French jihadis have carried out deadly attacks. Does France have a special problem or how do you explain this trend?

There have been attacks by so called home-grown jihadists in many different countries, so I don't see what is really specific to France except for the magnitude of the attack. Although the magnitude of the attack was not the same for instance in London in 2005. So I don't see the existence of attacks conducted by home-grown jihadists being a French specificity. What is French-specific is the alleged motivation of the aggressors because they attacked a very French asset which is the freedom to criticize religion.

Dr. Bruno Tertrais
Bruno TertraisImage: frstrategie.org

How do you think this attack will play out in French politically in the coming months? Front National leader Marine Le Pen for instance has just called for reinstatement of the death penalty.

As far as the death penalty is concerned, which I wouldn't have mentioned, but since you did, I want to be absolutely clear that there is no way and not any chance that the death penalty will be reinstated in France, and I am absolutely positive about that. As far as the way that this is going to play out will be interesting. Undoubtedly, it will make our debate about national identity, secularism and the place of Islam in French society trickier and perhaps even, unfortunately, a bit nauseating. But it is too early to say, because it will depend on what happens next. It will depend on whether there are any follow-on attacks, and will it also depend on whether there are attacks that are meant to be reprisals, against mosques for instance. There have been a few incidents on both "sides" in the past 24 hours. Whether there will be others, more severe and more visible, will effect - perhaps dramatically – how the debate will evolve in the coming weeks and months.

Do you think French and European governments have been adequately prepared for the threat posed by returning jihadis?

It is one of the top priorities for the prime minister and the minister of the interior. I have little doubt that they are doing everything they can in this regard. But it is absolutely impossible to prevent each and every attack and, unfortunately, it is difficult to say that yesterday's attack was absolutely preventable. I am not sure there is much more that they can do because this was already one of the biggest three homeland security priorities. Bear in mind that at this point there is no evidence that the ones who prepared and perpetrated this attack are directly linked to Daesh.

The United States, where the surviving brother of the alleged Boston Marathon bombers is currently facing trial, has strongly condemned the Paris terror attacks and vowed to continue the close security cooperation with France. What does the Charlie Hebdo massacre mean for the French-American relationship?

The American support has been as strong and as visible as the French support after 9/11 was. I think the French are grateful for that. There is already an excellent French-American cooperation on counter-terrorism and counter-extremism. I anticipate that this cooperation will get even more intense, maybe with even more motivation on both sides.