Attacks in France point to threat beyond extremist networks

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News of the stabbing appears to be pushing into action an 18-year-old refugee of Chechen origin, Abdullakh Anzorov, who grew up in France and in recent months has become active on extremist social media sites. On the very day of the stabbing, Anzorov began searching for the addresses of individuals who had offended Islam, according to an analysis of his Twitter account deleted by Le Monde.

In the end, he opted for a college professor whose presentation of Charlie Hebdo cartoons in a free speech class had angered many Muslim parents and students. Armed with a knife and two pellet guns, he beheaded the professor, Samuel Paty, on October 16.

“In these last three attacks, there is an absence of political demand but just a religious demand,” said Wassim Nasr, a journalist specializing in the jihadist movement and author of a book on the Islamic State, adding that the attackers were “fanatics” Rather than “jihadists”.

Religious anger over the reposting of the cartoons has widened the pool of potential terrorists, Nasr said, adding that it played into the jihadist movement’s narrative that all Muslims are affected by their struggle.

But instead of recognizing the exclusively religious fanaticism behind the attacks, the French government gave them a political dimension, he said.

“It becomes counterproductive,” he said.

The French government has said the main threat comes from “Islamist separatism,” what it describes as a local radical Islamist network that has launched a challenge to France’s strict secularism. In response to recent attacks, French authorities have cracked down on Muslim individuals and organizations they have labeled Islamists.

Olivier Roy, a political scientist at the European University Institute in Florence and an expert on Islam, said the French government’s response was inappropriate given the new nature of the threat.

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