Professor Sean Hand is an expert on French culture from the University of Warwick and has offered an initial reaction to the latest developments in France. He is available for telephone and Skype interviews.
"At 9.15 am on 26 June 2015, a jihadist terrorist attack was carried out against an industrial gas factory called Air Products in Saint-Quentin-Fallavier, south-east of Lyon on way to Grenoble. The company is North American in origin, having been founded in Detroit, Michigan during the second world war to supply the military war effort. The plant is located in an anonymous industrial park, and is protected by little more than a gate and a fence.
"Local reports said that two individuals drove a car into gas cannisters causing an explosion. One person was reported dead and several injured. One assailant was captured; an accomplice may be on the run, or may be one of the injured. A flag described as Islamist was recovered at the scene. Police reported finding a decapitated body, though it is not clear if that killing took place there or elsewhere. One report added that the decapitated head was been stuck on a fence, and that Arabic writing was attached to the head. A newspaper report claimed that the captured assailant claimed to belong to Daesh. The national identities of the assailants, and indeed the victims, are not yet established.
"The French Interior Minister, Bernard Cazeneuve, who was apparently in the region, travelled to the scene. The Prime Minister Manuel Valls raised the security level in the Rhône-Alpes region to their highest. President François Hollande, is in Brussels for the EU summit, made a statement at 12.46 local time which confirmed that there had been two accomplices in a car, that the arrested man had been identified by anti-terrorist services, and that there would be a Council meeting at 15.30 at the Elysée palace.
"In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, security levels have remained high in France, and the expectation is that attacks of this kind will occur. The French security forces are, however, not able to guard all potential sites of attack (a French policeman is posted outside every Jewish school, for example). There was no special security in place at this installation. Such events constitute a shock attack, which are obviously the hardest to guard against.
"The involvement of French nationals in jihadi networks and islamist combat is the highest among European populations. The Interior Minister had recently confirmed that 1683 French citizens were implicated in jihadi networks, and calculated that 457 combatants, with 105 killed, were French. 320 French citizens were also assumed to be in transit to Syria or Iraq, with 457 already there. The numbers are a three-fold increase from last year.
"The French National Assembly, the lower house of parliament, also recently massively approved a bill permitting mass internet surveillance, phone tapping and email scrutiny, without a judge’s approval, as well as the placing of hidden cameras in homes and tracers in cars. The bill, supported by both socialist and conservative elements, has been criticised by some who see such new powers as an erosion of civil liberties, and a version of the controversial US Patriot Act."
Notes to Editors
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Communications Manager, University of Warwick
Tel: +44 (0)2476 574 255
Mob: +44 (0)7920 531 221