Poverty, Islam, unemployment, ethnic discrimination, social alienation, frustrated youngsters, a combative interior minister and a soft prime minister – all these factors, separately and together, were blamed for the disorders sweeping France for two weeks. All were certainly and acutely present. But it was an outside force that lit the match which sent the flames shooting up over France.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly’s intelligence sources discovered the real cause expounded by French intelligence this week to President Jacques Chirac: responsibility was laid at the door of Iranian, Syrian and Hizballah clandestine agencies.
All three maintain a strong presence in France, especially Paris and they all have scores to settle with the Chirac government for ranging itself with the Bush administration against Iran’s nuclear program and for Syria’s ouster from Lebanon.
Wednesday, Nov. 9, therefore, French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy suddenly ordered foreign nationals implicated in the riots to be deported.
That was the first mention of foreigners in the context of the unrest.
Our sources report exclusively that the French secret service is now convinced that Iranian and Syrian agents, supported by the Hizballah’s extensive covert field networks, are working together to punish Jacques Chirac for a multitude of sins.
He has allowed Paris to be used as a hive of clandestine activity in support of the UN probe into the murder of Lebanese leader Rafiq Hariri last February and provided political asylum for Syrian president Bashar Assad‘s enemies.
Washington has furthermore let France take care of their joint objectives in Lebanon, including disarming the Hizballah.
The Risk of Civil War
French intelligence estimates that if Chirac keeps up the pressure for radical political change in Syria and continues to squeeze Hizballah, the disorders in France may well tip over into an armed uprising on the scale of the Iraqi insurgency or the Palestinian terrorist campaign. They see a tangible threat of civil war.
For now, French security experts’ prognosis is a diminution of the rioting over the weekend as the emergency measures take hold. But the unrest will not disappear. Select spots will continue to be targeted, a pilot flame there to be ignited for another conflagration at any time or for selecting spot targets like firebombing a metro or a hospital. Bursts of gunfire against French security forces may also be expected, as happened in Grigny south of the capital last Monday.
The French intelligence report dismisses the claim that the woes of a ghettoized immigrant community, religion, poverty or unemployment provided the catalysts for the disorders, though admittedly acute and inflammable.
The exact size of the Muslim population of France is a matter of speculation, ranging between six and 11 million. But the French investigators established that roughly one-third of the rioters were black Africans of diverse faiths, whereas the remaining two-thirds are Arab Muslims but not religiously observant. Most do not attend the mosques or pray five times a day. The rioters showed no signs of religious cohesion or respect for a single religious authority figure or imam. They completely ignored appeals by leading French Muslim authorities to restore order. They also failed to heed the popular, radical Muslim television preacher based in Qatar, Sheikh Yusouf Qaradawi, who is close to al Qaeda and justifies its suicide campaign. He told them to stop rioting because France is a traditional friend of the Arabs and Muslims and opposes America.
The rioters went right on burning cars and schools and hurling petrol bombs at the police. That France was a friend of Arabs or Muslims and had stayed out of the Iraq war did not interest them at all. Youths interviewed on the streets by the media declared outright that they have no respect for religion or law – “sans foi et sans loi.” The disturbances were therefore not religion-related.
The rioting erupted in the banlieue, the outer suburbs of French cities – but not necessarily in the most impoverished. This is not to say that France does not have poor communities, but the troubles appeared to burst out in suburbs with reasonable living standards, where the government had laid out budgets for kindergartens, schools, libraries, covered sports centers, health services and parks.
The level of unemployment gauged at 40-50% is offset by the fact that the women from western Africa constitute the main work force of these suburbs because they can find jobs easily, especially in Paris, unlike their menfolk.
Although nearly 7,000 cars were torched as well as scores of shops and warehouses, French intelligence analysts noticed that no TV camera caught a single arsonist in action. Later some television stations toned down their coverage, but from the beginning, they were unable to catch them because many roared into action in small bands of motorcyclists too fast to be picked up on film or by the police. They collected their supplies of petrol bombs from pick-up vans waiting at distribution points prearranged by SMS messages on their cell phones or communicated through Internet blogs. Young people with no money cannot afford pick-up vans, motorcycles, cell phones and computers for accessing the Internet.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly discloses the three main conclusions drawn by the French intelligence investigators:
1. The outbreaks were organized by a hand that supplied the equipment, weapons and orders to the arson gangs and planned the attacks down to the last detail including precise timing. The fires followed each other serially to ascertain constant flames through the night in places that were far apart. This created the effect of spontaneity and forced security forces and firefighters to dash up and down the country, always arriving too late to catch the petrol bombers.
2. The riots spread quickly to some 300 towns and smaller locations, which also lent them a semblance of spontaneity. But, except for isolated cases, the modus operandi of the attacks and internal communications was identical and clearly orchestrated.
3. This offensive must have been planned for some time, over months if not two or three years. A countrywide network of hundreds of sleeper cells was in place, all drilled in the same patterns of operation with enough funds to go into action at a signal. None of this is within the capabilities of local gangs.
Hizballah cells run riot
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources in touch with European intelligence circles conversant with the undercurrents in Paris, report the conviction that both Iranian security and Syrian clandestine services found good use for the networks Hizballah established some years ago in various French cities. Some of these networks have links that reach as far as cells in sub-Saharan countries. This accounts for the large number of black Africans taking part in the riots and their high proportion among the foreigners ordered to be deported this week.
These circles stress that Iranian clandestine agencies show a distinct preference for striking indirectly through surrogate terrorist groups. They direct their offensives against US targets in Iraq through Sunni Muslim insurgent bands and against the British through local Shiite militias in southern Iraq and Hizballah. Tehran’s mode of operation in France fits this pattern.
The Syrian role in sparking the riots may well have been finalized in August and September, when the Syrian military intelligence chief Gen. Assef Shawqat, a leading suspect in the Hariri murder, and his wife Bouchra, who is Assad’s sister, spent several weeks in Paris. The official pretext for their visit was to cut the tape for a new Syrian information center in Paris, which was soon exposed as an active Syrian espionage center in the heart of the French capital.
When informed that the center was used for surveillance against the Syrian president’s opponents sheltering in Paris, Chirac considered in late September, early October shutting the center down. He then decided not to go overboard against Assad. Now he must be ruing his restraint.