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France: In the Danger Zone By: Olivier Guitta
FrontPageMagazine.com | Monday, January 05, 2004

Recently, Air France grounded all planes traveling from Paris to Los Angeles due to very credible terrorist threats. Which raised the question: could France—heretofore largely unaffected by the daily anxiety that Americans have lived with every day since 9/11—be next in line as a possible target of the Islamist terrorist networks? And if so, why now? After all, France has always been a good friend to certain terrorist-sponsoring Muslim states, especially since Jacques Chirac became President in 1995.

Chirac had a thirty-year friendship with Saddam Hussein and was the only non-Arab Head of State to attend Syrian strongman Hafez Assad’s funeral in 2000. In addition to his mutual admiration society with Saddam and the Syrian Baa’thists, Chirac is also friendly with dangerous Islamic terrorist organizations like Hizbullah, which, prior to September 11, 2001, held the dubious distinction of having killed more Americans than any other terrorist group. Richard Armitage, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State, has said that Hizbullah is "the A-team of terrorists, while Al Qaeda may actually be the B-team." Despite Hizbullah’s blood-soaked pedigree, Chirac invited Hassan Nasrallah, the group’s Secretary General, to attend the Francophone Summit in Beirut in October 2002. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that France has been fighting tooth and nail to prevent the European Union from including Hizbullah on the list of terrorist networks.

Indeed, most people do not realize how popular Jacques Chirac is in the Muslim world. In the past year, "Jacques" has become a very trendy name for newborn Muslim sons. Similarly, during this past Ramadan, the most expensive dates (a fruit frequently eaten during that holiday) were named "Chiracs" in honor of the French president. In addition, Chirac has been chosen Man of the Year by many Arab newspapers and receives standing ovations whenever he travels to Muslim countries. He has even been called the "Western Saladin" by some in the Arab media, recalling the Muslim hero who defeated the Crusaders during the twelfth century.

But on December 17, Chirac’s love affair with his Islamist friends came to a bitter end. By supporting the ban of the hijab—the veil worn by Muslim women—in France’s public schools, Chirac incurred the wrath of Islamic radicals worldwide. Almost immediately, the notorious Muslim Brotherhood "strongly condemned" Chirac’s decision. Likewise, Shaykh Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah, Hizbullah’s founder and spiritual leader, wrote an official letter to Chirac threatening "likely complications" for France if the law banning the hijab was passed. Mohammad Khatami, the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, called on the French government to "cancel this unjust law," while his Minister of Foreign Affairs said, "This extremist decision is against the citizens’ rights and will tarnish France’s image in the Islamic world." The Lebanese Sheikh Mohammed Qabbani went even further, stating the hijab’s ban showed "a hatred of Islam." Furthermore, numerous demonstrations have already occurred in front of the French embassies in Lebanon and Bahrain.

In just one day, Chirac lost the lofty standing he had attained after many years of pacifying rogue Muslim states. As a result of his decision on the hijab, he has now acquired three lethal enemies: Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and Iran, meaning that France is now facing very imminent "veiled" threats from two major terrorist networks and the largest terror-sponsoring state.

France should take these warnings very seriously for a couple of reasons. First, its Muslim population is very large (estimated at anywhere between five and eight million), and very influenced by extremist organizations such as Union Des Organisations Islamiques de France, an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Second, Al Manar (Hizbullah TV) and Al-Jazeera are presently broadcasting their propaganda to French Muslims, which could lead to violent actions inside the country.

Third, France is home to many Al-Qaeda cells. For example, Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be twentieth hijacker from the September 11 attacks, came from France, as did the perpetrators of the bombing of the Djerba synagogue in Tunisia in April 2002. A terrifying book, "My Assassins’ Brothers," by Mohamed Sifaoui, shows the extent of the Al-Qaeda network in Paris and their readiness to act on demand.

Lastly, according to the daily French newspaper, Le Monde, Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hasan Al-Banna and the unofficial voice of Islam in France, is suspected to have links with Al Qaeda. In fact, Ramadan may have organized a meeting back in 1991 between Ayman Al Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s number two, and Omar Abdel Rahman, plotter of the first World Trade Center bombing.

As evidenced by the venomous Islamist reaction to the ban of the hijab, France is now a prime target for Islamic terrorists from around the world. The country will also likely face violent reaction from its own Muslim population. This ticking bomb must be addressed very quickly in order to prevent massive terror attacks in Paris or against French interests in the world.

Olivier Guitta is a Washington DC based foreign affairs consultant.

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