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What Makes France So Vulnerable To Terrorist Attacks?

Since January 2015, France has experienced four major terrorist attacks, including the truck attack in Nice last night, as well as other incidents.

Why is it so vulnerable?

Here & Now‘s Peter O’Dowd talks with Chris Chivvis, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

Interview Highlights: Chris Chivvis

On why there have been so many terrorist attacks in France

“Well, there is a question about whether or not there is some kind of a ‘French curse,’ when it comes to these terrorist attacks. Obviously France has a history of colonialism, has long-standing connections with particular Islamic populations in Africa. But also, importantly, a lot of people for years have pointed to socioeconomic exclusion among Muslim populations in France as a cause of discontent.

Now, those factors are undoubtedly important, but France is, of course, about the only country in the world that’s been subject to these attacks. We’ve seen attacks like this also in the United States, which has a very different kind of history and different kinds of opportunities for Muslims living in America. So there’s probably some truth to the idea that there’s a ‘French curse,’ but we shouldn’t make too much of it.”

On what he’ll be watching for about the truck’s driver

“I think clearly the question of his motivations is very important and something to watch closely. The question of when he came to France from Tunisia is still not clear to me yet. If he came more recently, then that increases the chances that he’s part of the broader radicalization problem that we’ve seen in Tunisia — sending foreign terrorists fighters abroad in higher per capita numbers than any other country in the world.


Now the fact that he was not on any kind of watch lists, that he hadn’t been picked up by French counter terrorism officials, and that he doesn’t — from what we know about her personal life — seem to have any kind of signs of radicalization, suggests that probably there were personal grievances involved in this attack. He may simply have been using the broader fact of terrorist attacks in France and the Islamic State calls for attacks in France as an excuse, rather than a motivation, for conducting this horrific attack.”

On the tactic of using trucks in terrorist attacks

“Well, clearly, the use of trucks — either armed or unarmed — we’ve seen the use of trucks that are loaded down with explosives as a means of targeting buildings on multiple occasions, that was an al-Qaeda tactic. We’ve seen the use of trucks as a IEDs, vehicle-borne IEDs, more recently as a tactic used by ISIS in Iraq and Syria and also, I believe, in Libya. So, the use of trucks is certainly something new.

The use of trucks that don’t carry any kind of explosive with them, yes as you say is something that has been encouraged. What can be done to prevent it and protect these soft targets in the future? I simply don’t have the answer to that.”

On whether or not France’s stance on global terrorism played a role

“I think it’s easily over exaggerated. Some people will argue that France is a target of these attacks simply because it has an aggressive counter terrorism policy in Africa. Because it’s joined the counter-ISIL coalition with airstrikes in Iraq and Syria. But I think there may be some truth to that. That the main factors involved in this have much more to do with French history in the region and the disaffection of a significant portion of its Muslim population, and the active efforts of ISIS and al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups to try and recruit in France and also build networks in Europe. So there are a lot of different things in play here. French foreign policy is at best one of several factors.”


Chris Chivvis, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center and a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation.

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