What effect will the French airport terror attack have on their elections?
A French Muslim was shot and killed at Orly airport outside of Paris yesterday when he tried to grab a soldier's gun. Ziyed Ben Belgacem, a 39-year old career criminal born and raised in France, was known to police both for his radical views and criminal activity. While holding a gun on a female soldier, he shouted "I am here to die in the name of Allah ... There will be deaths." Seconds later, the soldier's two comrades cut him down.
Questions arose about why the French security services no longer had Belgacem on their radar. His house was searched last year after the Paris terror attacks that killed 130 people, but authorities were no longer tracking his movements.
Belgacem had earlier stolen a car and shot at police in the northern suburbs of Paris. He then stole another car before abandoning it at the airport.
The attack was just the latest in a series of lone wolf attacks. Last month, an Egyptian man was shot when trying to carry out an attack at the Louvre in Paris.
Terrorism is a big issue in the upcoming presidential election campaign and yesterday, candidates tried to take advantage of the attack to boost their campaigns.
But with a presidential election fast approaching, the political stakes are even higher for Mr Hollande’s government as it seeks to bolster support among the French public and stem the rise of the far-right.
Marine Le Pen, the Front National’s leader, was quick to capitalise on Saturday’s events, which saw suspected Islamist Ziyed Ben Belgacem shoot a police officer at a checkpoint before being killed while attempting to seize a soldier’s gun at the airport.
“I want the state to take charge of ensuring safety for the French,” she told supporters at a campaign rally in Metz.
“The French will not be protected by people who refuse to face up to reality.”
Ms Le Pen, currently polling in second place for next month’s presidential election, claimed France was “overrun with violence” as a result of “lax” governments.
Her main opponent, the centre-left former economy minister Emmanuel Macron, pledged to restore military service at his own campaign event.
Time will tell whether the latest attack to rock France will sway voters going to the polls in April.
A succession of terrorist atrocities has undermined trust in the current government, which has repeatedly vowed to carry out wide-ranging security reforms after failing to prevent Isis-inspired attacks in Nice, Normandy, Magnanville and elsewhere.
A state of emergency giving security services dramatically increased powers to search, detain and monitor suspects was brought in after Isis militants massacred 130 people in the November 2015 Paris attacks.
The interior minister said Saturday’s shooting justified the measures, which have raised human rights concerns at the United Nations, but the incident will be seen as another failure by the French intelligence agencies.
Blegacem's criminal past and possible psychological problems have been siezed upon by Islamist apologists who oppose the crackdown by President Hollande. But the fact is, most French terrorists inspired by ISIS have a criminal record:
Research has shown that more than half of European Isis fighters have a criminal past, with recruiters deliberately targeting violent criminals and gang members looking for redemption and a licence to kill in the name of jihad.
One of the most prominent examples is the network that carried out both the Paris and Brussels attacks.
Co-ordinator Abdelhamid Abaaoud, bomber Ibrahim Abdeslam and his brother Salah were all involved in crime in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, while Paris supermarket gunman Amedy Coulibaly had served time for receiving stolen goods, drug trafficking and robbery.
Like many other Islamists, Belgacem is believed to have been radicalised in prison and was put under surveillance after being freed, although it was unclear when monitoring was stopped.
Le Pen's insurgent candidacy has already had an effect on French politics. She has forced center right, and center left parties to move closer to her positions on immigration and assimilation of Muslims. Whether Macron can co-opt enough Le Pen supporters to give him a first round victory in the elections next month is probably not in the cards. But if, as expected, no candidate gets 50% of the vote in the first round, the top two challengers will face off in May. Macron hopes his pro-EU stance will attract parties of the left and right to support his candidacy against Le Pen, giving him a majority in May.
But a few more terror attacks like Orly, or God forbid, like the Paris attack at the theater and restaurant that killed 130, and all the conventional wisdom will go out the window. People have been outraged at the apparent lack of competence in the French security services that had led to Islamic extremists carrying out regular attacks on French citizens.