It’s sometimes easy to forget the spate of terrorism that occurred a few years ago. Restaurants are full; the scars aren’t so visible. Sure, people are less fragile, less vulnerable, maybe also less kind to strangers, the same way they were after the attacks of November 13, 2015, when sitting outside at a sidewalk café seemed like an act of defiance. Yet over the past year, since the “yellow-vest” protest movement began, the conversation has shifted from terrorism to questions of income inequality.
Still, France remains in a state of emergency, with the government warning of the high risk of a terrorist attack. In honoring the victims of the police-headquarters killings yesterday, French President Emmanuel Macron said that security forces had thwarted 59 terrorist attacks in the past six years, and that the country would continue to fight the “Islamist hydra,” a multiheaded monster. Security services have to be right every time, though—terrorists have to be right just once.
Read: What the November 13 attacks taught Paris
On national radio this week, France’s interior minister, Christophe Castaner, said he could not rule out that the attacker, a man whose job was to help protect France from terrorist attacks, had shared some of the confidential information to which he had access. Castaner defended himself against opponents calling for his resignation, and will be questioned by lawmakers this week.
The attack has caused a crisis of confidence in Macron’s government, Le Monde editorialized. The state has been “infected with the cancer of Islamism,” said the conservative daily Le Figaro, which also decried what it called “denial-Islam,” a play on words suggesting the government’s denial of militant Islam’s risks. The left-wing daily Libération wrote that if the attacker “had for several years calmly forwarded data from the Paris Police intelligence office to a nebulous jihadist, we would be facing a major security and political problem.”
The attacker was identified by French media as Mickäel Harpon, 45, born in Martinique, frustrated that his deafness might have hindered his advancement at work. After jihadists murdered 12 people and wounded others in an attack on the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, Harpon apparently told his colleagues that he “understood” the attackers. A complaint was filed against him over the remarks, but apparently nothing came of it. He reportedly frequented a mosque where a Moroccan-born imam routinely preached hate.
France’s police department “should examine its conscience,” Gilles Kepel, one of the country’s most prominent scholars of Islam and terrorism, told Le Figaro. When the attack took place, Kepel said, he was just blocks from the police headquarters, attending the trial of two women who in 2016 recorded a video swearing allegiance to the Islamic State and attempted to blow up a car filled with gas containers on a touristy street facing Notre-Dame—the street that houses Shakespeare and Company, the historic and much-beloved bookstore. Their plot backfired when the car didn’t catch fire, and they were arrested.