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France's response to terrorism

The French are growing impatient with lofty calls to persevere against terror

Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray Catholic Church Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray.─ No target is too soft for killers inspired by Islamic State. On July 26th in this small town in Normandy, two knife-wielding terrorists entered a church. They took hostage the 85-year-old priest celebrating mass and the tiny congregation, two nuns and two parishioners. They slit Father Jacques Hamel’s throat as he knelt before the altar. Police shot and killed the terrorists; one other hostage was critically injured. The jihadists’ “barbaric attack on a church”, as the prime minister, Manuel Valls, put it, recast France’s conflict with terror as a primitive war of religion.

The murder added to the nation’s sense of siege. Less than two weeks had elapsed since the horror of Nice, when a man of Tunisian origin killed 84 people by driving a lorry through a crowd celebrating Bastille Day. The mood of defiant solidarity forged after last year’s Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan attacks in Paris is eroding.

Within a few hours of the latest attack, the president, François Hollande, appeared at the scene, flanked by his stolid interior minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, to express his dismay at the “desecration of democracy” and to promise to use all means necessary to defeat those who have declared war on France and its values. While warning that the threat of new atrocities remains high, he called for national unity and almost prayed (though he is an atheist) that the terrorists not succeed in their aim of fomenting division.

For many French, these once-reassuring words are growing wearisome. Single attacks, however terrible, can unite a shocked nation, but France has suffered at least 14 terrorist assaults in the past two years, in which at least 240 people have been killed and over 600 injured. Moreover, the attacks have been widespread: eight of the 12 mainland regions of France have been hit ...

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