France's Terrorist Threat Isn't in Afghanistan

Barry Lando
Barry M. Lando, a graduate of Harvard and Columbia University, spent 25 years as an award-winning investigative producer with 60 Minutes. The author of numerous articles about Iraq, he produced a documentary…
Barry Lando

There’s a certain bitter irony in this week’s headlines in France about an Islamic terrorist network being rounded up in Strasbourg, Paris, Nice and Cannes, at the same time as the TV news shows French forces beginning their withdrawal from Afghanistan.

While France has spent billions of euros over the past 10 years to battle the threat of radical Islam in Central Asia, the country now finds that the threat is homegrown, fostered in its own schools, decaying neighborhoods and prisons.

As I’ve written in previous blogs, France needs to focus much more on economic stagnation, bleak job outlooks, mounting food prices — in short, increasingly bitter frustration, particularly in the poorer suburbs of cities like Paris and Marseille.

Anger is particularly high among second- and third-generation Muslim youth. France’s population of 5 million Muslims is Europe’s largest, and, partially because of the woeful economic situation in the country, France has had a difficult time absorbing them.

Some of those outraged young people have turned to criminal activities, from petty to violent. And one of the major areas where their conversion to violent jihad takes place is not so much in Central Asia’s tribal provinces, but in overcrowded French prisons.

Further, a number of those who have espoused jihad were not born Muslims at all, but are recent converts — also proselytized in French prisons. That’s exactly the background of Jérémie Louis-Sidney, the 33-year-old member of the terrorist gang who was gunned down after shooting at police attempting to arrest him Saturday in Strasbourg.

It’s the background of many — perhaps all — of the 12 supposed members of the alleged terrorist ring currently being questioned by French police.

From the coldly pragmatic view of defeating radical Islam, the French would have been — and still would be — much better off deploying the billions of euros they’ve squandered sending troops, planes and ships to Central Asia back home where they really might make a difference.

It goes without saying, so would the United States.

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