French national police are calling for an increase in the security around religious sites in the country ahead of the All Saint’s holiday, which is coming up this weekend. The development highlights an uptick in online threats by extremists against Christians and moderate Muslims and comes against the backdrop of French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin stressing the very high terrorist threat level in the country. The development also comes amid escalating tensions between France and the Muslim world, with leaders such as Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan accusing France and President Emmanuel Macron of being anti-Muslim. The tensions between the two countries notably increased after a terrorist incident on 16 October in which a schoolteacher was beheaded after showing a caricature of the Prophet Mohammed in his class. French authorities subsequently launched a crackdown on individuals, organisations and mosques that are believed to have ties to radical elements of Islam. The attack on 16 October came shortly after another terrorist incident in Paris on 25 September outside of the old offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Both incidents coincide with the trial against 14 individuals accused of facilitating the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015. The magazine marked the beginning of the trial by republishing the controversial cartoon, triggering threats from al-Qaeda.
• Police have highlighted growing online threats by extremists against Christians and moderate Muslims, and Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has reiterated that the terrorist threat in France is currently very high.
• Taliban, Hezbollah and Hamas have also come out and condemned France, driving concerns that extremists could be inspired to carry out terrorist attacks amid heightened tensions in the country. Moreover, harsh criticism of France from leaders such as Turkey’s President Erdogan could also have a similar effect.
• As such, risk of further attacks will remain heightened in the coming days and over the upcoming weekend. Primary targets of potential attacks are likely to be churches and educational institutions, but also various symbols of the French state, such as public buildings, embassies, and consulates. Although the risk of an attack is likely to be primarily confined to France, the possibility of well-known French businesses and brands overseas being targeted should not be completely ruled out.
• With President Macron highly unlikely to change his stance on the right to freedom of speech, including on often inflammatory topics such as religion, and continued efforts to curb radical Islam in France, the threat level is therefore set to remain elevated in the short to medium term.
As tensions between France and the Muslim world increase, there is a heightened risk of an attack being carried out over the short to medium term, with potential targets not just limited to religious sites, but also including symbols of the French state. Abroad, French citizens are advised to avoid crowds and exercise
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