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A French judge warned that France was ISIL’s ‘number one enemy’ two months ago

EPA/Ian Langsdon
Armed French police officers patrol on Place de la Republique, Paris.
  • Caitlin Hu
By Caitlin Hu

Geopolitics Editor

This article is more than 2 years old.

France is the number one enemy of ISIL, explained magistrate and antiterror expert Marc Trévidic to Paris-Match with chilling prescience back in September. Not the US, not the UK, not Turkey. France.

Trévidic’s interview with the iconic French magazine outlines both the French nation’s vulnerability and ISIL’s particular animosity toward it. In light of the Nov. 13 string of terror attacks in Paris, Trévidic’s warning—republished online on Nov. 14—is heart-wrenchingly difficult to read. But its takeaways are as important today as it was when it was first published. Quartz has translated a selection of excerpts below.

“The threat is at its highest level—it has never been so high as now.”

The threat is at its highest level—it has never been so high as now. First of all, we have become enemy number one for the Islamic State (IS). France is the principal target of an army of terrorists with unlimited means. Second, it is clear that we are particularly vulnerable due to our geographic position, from the ease of entry into our territory for all jihadis of European origin, French or not, and from the fact of the clear and incessant desire to strike us expressed by the men of the Islamic State.

And then, it must be said: Before the breadth of the threat and the diversity of forms that it can take, our framework for the fight against terror has become permeable, fallible, and has no more efficacy than it has had in years prior. That is to say that I have become convinced that the men of Daesh [another name for ISIL] have the ambition and means to strike us much harder by organizing huge actions, incomparable to anything before now. I say it now as a strategist: The darkest days are ahead of us. The true war that the Islamic State intends to bring to our soil has not yet begun.

La menace est à un niveau maximal, jamais atteint jusqu’alors. D’abord, nous sommes devenus pour l’Etat islamique [EI] l’ennemi numéro un. La France est la cible principale d’une armée de terroristes aux moyens illimités. Ensuite, il est clair que nous sommes particulièrement vulnérables du fait de notre position géographique, de la facilité d’entrer sur notre territoire pour tous les djihadistes d’origine européenne, ­Français ou non, et du fait de la volonté clairement et sans cesse exprimée par les hommes de l’EI de nous frapper.Et puis, il faut le dire : devant l’ampleur de la menace et la diversité des formes qu’elle peut prendre, notre dispositif de lutte antiterroriste est devenu perméable, faillible, et n’a plus l’efficacité qu’il avait auparavant. Enfin, j’ai acquis la conviction que les hommes de Daech [acronyme de l’Etat islamique] ont l’ambition et les moyens de nous atteindre beaucoup plus durement en organisant des actions d’ampleur, incomparables à celles menées jusqu’ici. Je le dis en tant que technicien : les jours les plus sombres sont devant nous. La vraie guerre que l’EI entend porter sur notre sol n’a pas encore commencé.

“ISIL intends to hit us systematically and hard.”

Those who have been arrested and convinced to talk tell us that ISIL intends to hit us systematically and hard. Understand, the overwhelming message from our investigations is that we are undoubtedly the absolute enemy. The men of Daesh have the means, the money, and ability to easily acquire as many arms as they want and to organize large scale attacks.  Terrorism is a bidding game; the point is always to go further, hit harder. And then, there’s still “the Goncourt prize of terrorism” [Goncourt is a national French literary prize], and I mean the September 11 2001 attacks against the World Trade Center towers. I can’t imagine for an instant that a man like About Bakr al-Baghdadi and his army will be satisfied for long with external operations of small scope. They are thinking about something much bigger, and are eying France first of all.

Ceux que l’on arrête et qui acceptent de parler nous disent que l’EI a l’intention de nous frapper systématiquement et durement. Comprenez-moi bien, il ressort de nos enquêtes que nous sommes indubitablement l’ennemi absolu. Les hommes de Daech ont les moyens, l’argent et la faculté d’acquérir facilement autant d’armes qu’ils veulent et d’organiser des attaques de masse. Le terrorisme est une surenchère ; il faut toujours aller plus loin, frapper plus fort. Et puis, il reste «le prix ­Goncourt du terrorisme» à atteindre, et je fais là référence aux attentats du 11 septembre 2001 contre les tours du World Trade Center. Je n’imagine pas un instant qu’un homme tel qu’Abou Bakr ­al-Baghdadi et son armée vont se satisfaire longtemps d’opérations extérieures de peu d’envergure. Ils sont en train de penser à quelque chose de bien plus large, visant en tout premier lieu l’Hexagone.

“France is easy to strike.”

Because we always come back to this idea that we are the ideal target! Traditionally, the number one, longtime adversary of jihadi terrorism was the United States, but the parameters have changed. The Americans are more difficult to reach. France is easy to strike. There is geographic proximity, there are go-betweens across Europe, there is the operational ease of sending back to France from Syria battle-hardened recruits, Europeans, members of the organization, who can legally enter the Schengen area and blend right in before taking action.

Parce qu’on revient à cette idée qu’on est la cible idéale ! Traditionnellement, l’adversaire numéro un du terrorisme djihadiste a longtemps été les Etats-Unis, mais les paramètres ont changé. Les Américains sont plus difficiles à atteindre. La France, elle, est facile à toucher. Il y a la proximité géographique, il y a des relais partout en Europe, il y a la facilité opérationnelle de renvoyer de Syrie en France des volontaires aguerris, des Européens, membres de l’organisation, qui peuvent revenir légalement dans l’espace Schengen­ et s’y fondre avant de passer à l’action.

“France has a heavy ‘debt’ in the eyes of Islamists.”

France has become the number one ally of the United States in the war against Daesh and its jihadi subsidiaries. We are taking up arms alongside the United States. We have mounted aerial raids against the Islamic State in Iraq. Now, we are getting involved in Syria. Even more, France has a heavy “debt” in the eyes of Islamists. For them, we are still a colonial nation, sometimes still defending its Christian roots, openly supporting Israel, selling weapons to countries that ISIL calls “infidel and corrupt” in the Gulf or in the Middle East. And [France is] a nation that has been said to deliberately oppress its large Muslim community. This last argument is an essential line of propaganda for the Islamic State.

La France est devenue l’allié numéro un des Etats-Unis dans la guerre contre Daech et les filières djihadistes. Nous combattons par les armes aux côtés des Etats-Unis. Nous avons mené des raids aériens contre l’EI en Irak. Maintenant, nous intervenons en Syrie. De plus, la France a un lourd «passif» aux yeux des islamistes. Pour eux, c’est toujours une nation coloniale, revendiquant parfois ses racines chrétiennes, soutenant ouvertement Israël, vendant des armes aux pays dits «mécréants et corrompus» du Golfe ou du Moyen-“Orient. Et une nation qui opprimerait délibérément son importante communauté musulmane. Ce dernier argument est un axe de propagande essentiel pour l’EI. 

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