This terror attack has a past

Published: November 20, 2015 - 17:01

“This is for France’s Syrian policy,” screamed the terrorist as he fired inside the Le Bataclan theatre in Paris. Around 70 people died in this carnage in the theatre alone. Another 50 were shot by marauding terrorists in other parts of the city. There are also reports that a Syrian passport was found on the body of a militant who committed suicide, like seven of his comrades who participated in the Paris carnage. Why are the terrorists of the Islamic State upset with France? 

After the First World War, the Ottoman Empire was divided as part of the 1916 Sykes-Picot pact in the Middle East between the British, French and Russians. As the British were the dominating power after the Great War, they took the countries that were oil-producing as they knew that future wealth and influence would be linked to control over fossil fuel. After all, they had won the war against the mighty Germans, who were still dependent on coal. Britain’s Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, had grandly stated that the Allies “were carried to victory on a flood of oil”. 

When carving up the spoils in the name of cornering mandates, the British were forced to give up their claims on Mosul in Iraq as they lost against the Ottoman army in the battle of Gallipoli. Later, when oil was found in Mosul, Britain managed to get it in exchange for an asset elsewhere. The French wanted greater influence in the Levant and the Mediterranean so they gave Mosul away. At the time Britain did not want Saudi Arabia as oil had not been struck there then. 

The French presence was supported by the Christians and other minorities in Syria, but was resented in Muslim-majority areas. They altered the borders of the countries, enlarging the hinterland of Damascus at the expense of Aleppo. However, they were made to leave Syria and Lebanon but continued their colonial presence in Algeria. The Algerians were bribed with French citizenship, but their hatred of the French surfaced in the long and brutal Algerian war that ended in 1962. Algerians in France have since been treated shabbily and discriminated against.  

They live in the dark margins of the city, far from those beautiful sights that make Paris, the city of lights, so romantic and seductive. The French may have left Algeria, but they have remained engaged with their erstwhile colonies where Islamic radical organisations threaten existing regimes. The Algerian civil war and the violent repression of the Islamists contributed to the rise of Al-Qaeda in Maghreb. Early Al-Qaeda documents had talked about entering France through the radical Algerian Islamist network that also existed there. 

Due to aggressive surveillance, France managed to keep violence at bay until January this year when the office of a cartoon magazine, Charlie Hebdo, was targetted. The latest attack, on November 12, shows that the Islamic State terrorists have acquired a sophistication that enables them to evade French intelligence’s prying eyes. 

In recent years, the French had begun to assert themselves militarily in their old mandates. In Mali, they attacked to overthrow the control of an Al-Qaeda-led militant outfit. In Libya, too, they were right in front with their aircrafts and missiles while the US chose to lead from behind. Despite the fact that they were cash-strapped, the French, perhaps bankrolled in their war effort by Qataris and Saudi Arabia, smoked out Muammar Gaddafi. In Syria, too, the French are working very closely with the Saudis and Qataris to overthrow President Basher al-Assad. French President Francois Hollande has confessed to providing weapons to “moderates”, which everyone knows is a fiction. All the moderates are either dead or refugees, taking the boat to Europe. The French have also been bombing Islamic State targets without seeking permission from the Syrian government.  

In early 2012, a report in Lebanon’s The Daily Star had claimed that French covert operatives were arrested by the Syrian army at Homs. President Hollande was right the other day, when he said that the attack on Paris was an act of war. The truth is that the French have been at war for more than 150 years – and this doesn’t include the two big wars – and it is only now that it is visiting them. It would be wise for the French government to pay attention to the suicide bomber.

Editor of Delhi's Hardnews magazine and author of Bad Money Bad Politics- the untold story of Hawala scandal.

Read more stories by Sanjay Kapoor