Father Hamel didn’t have to die

The murder of Father Hamel in a Catholic church at the center of St.-Étienne-du-Rouvray in Rouen, Normandy, could have been prevented.  The French security forces knew in advance this church was targeted by ISIS when they captured some ISIS hit-lists months ago. Also, the attackers were known for their affiliation with ISIS. 

Father Jacques Hamel was murdered because the French security services failed to surveil the watch-listed ISIS-affiliated terrorists and ignored a fresh warning, including the photograph of one of the attackers who was already known to the local police.

The latest Islamic terrorist attack in France demonstrates without any doubt the complete incompetence of the French authorities at all levels.  It illustrates either the total disdain for its own citizens or its inability to understand and act on the threat that is destabilizing the French society.  This time, a Catholic church was the target. Previously there were attacks on synagogues, Jewish Kosher stores, a newspaper, concert halls, nightclubs, sporting events and national celebrations, including the mass killing in Nice during Bastille Day fireworks. These, in addition to many other smaller, unreported or underreported attacks throughout the country.

But the French authorities have done worse than nothing. Why the incompetence? 

When public or private institutions are threatened, the first step is to try and eliminate or neutralize the source of the threat.  If this fails, strong security is put in place to protect the threatened sites.

Regarding perimeter security, this church was left entirely unprotected.  There were no guards. The two terrorists (there could be more, this is what we know about now) entered the church through an unlocked back door.  Why was the door unlocked?  Why didn't the church have any protection?  Responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of the French authorities and, perhaps, on the church, if the warnings were passed to them, which is not known at present.  Clearly, the congregants in the Church, and those who were taken hostage, including nuns, had no inkling they were on a hit list.

Next; at least one of the terrorists was known to the police, and should have been on their terrorist watch list. He was arrested and sent to prison for an attempt to join ISIS in Syria. His computer contained the list of churches targeted for attacks, including this one.  He was released from prison last March under parole to live with his parents and was wearing an electronic tag.  But, under the terms of his release, he was allowed to do anything he wanted during the morning hours. Thus, his electronic tag was not monitored from 830 until 1230 every day. The attack at the church, nearby his parents’ home, in the center of Saint-Etienne du Rouvray took place at 9:45 am.

Why would the French judicial system parole a known terrorist?  Why would they disregard extremely worrisome intelligence and not provide adequate protection to the church, and to their citizens?

The pattern of consistent security failures in France includes far more than what happened in Saint Etienne du Rouvray. 

In Nice, despite forewarnings of terrorism, the French police removed police vans that barricaded Promenade des Anglais during a military parade earlier in the day. Moreover, the police did not question the presence of a 19-ton truck parked for hours in a non-parking place. It did not question the presence of the driver, Mohamed Lahouaiej, who was known to the police, or his claim that he was delivering ice cream in a non-refrigerator truck. With no barricades and no police presence on the Promenade, nothing stopped the terrorist from driving the heavy, weapon-loaded truck into the crowds, mowing down as many people as he could.

Sandra Bertin, a local police officer in Nice, complained that the plainclothes police who were there were only permitted to carry light weapons, namely small pistols. "The truck dodged the municipal police barrier. The team couldn’t stop it. You can’t burst the tires of a 19-tonner with a revolver," she said.  When she submitted her report of what she witnessed on the CCTV she was monitoring during the attack, she was asked to “modify” it. She refused. Several days later, the antiterrorist branch in the Ministry ordered her “to erase the film” to prevent it “being seen by the public.”  But she and her superiors refused to destroy the tapes.”

The French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve should have resigned from his post in shame for failing to protect the French celebrating their Independence Day in Nice. Instead, he is now suing Sandra Bertin for defamation, for her “unworthy accusations.” And as of this writing, the French police have failed to link Mohamed Lahouaiej’s accomplices to ISIS. And if this was not enough, the security services failed to follow up on "a tip from abroad" that could have stopped the attack church and saved Father Hamel's life. Did the "leak" of the this latest debacle come from local police officers who are fed-up with their government's "willful blindness" to Islamist terrorism? Are the latest "leaks" and Sandra Bertin's refusal to destroy her report and the videos of the attack on Nice, an indication not everyone is happy with the Hollande government’s handling of Islamist terrorism?  

The lack of security in France is nothing new to the Jews in France.  Until recently they have borne the brunt of France's poor security environment.  Synagogues and Jewish schools and community centers have been attacked; Jews have been beaten up and in some cases murdered on buses and in the metro or walking on the street; Kosher restaurants and supermarkets have been shot up, killing many people -- the list is a long one.  It is the major reason why many French Jews, have left the country to the Jewish State of Israel. But most of the French are staying, unprotected.

ISIS and its Jihadi affiliates are waging war on Europe. And most Europeans are bewildered. Their adherence to political correctness leads to failure to act upon intelligence that could curtail jihadist attacks. They fail to protect their borders and are refusing to understand the source of their collective problem. Whether it is Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden or the United Kingdom, the coddling of potential Islamic terrorists, the lack of connecting intelligence to action, and the weakness of law enforcement including the court system, are all but guarantee that many more decent people will suffer and die, and videos of their attacks will be used to recruit more ISIS “soldieries” for jihad.

Rachel Ehrenfeld, PhD, is Director of the American Center for Democracy