Threat warning for France’s domestic and international hotel/resort sector

Nov Fri, 2020 Security

Based on threat indicators compiled in late October 2020, Muir Analytics assesses that French branded hotels and resorts, both domestic and international, are ripe for an Islamist jihadist attack.* Muir Analytics also assesses that French citizens at non-French branded hotels and resorts might be targeted. The current threat indicators come from seven specific areas:

  1. The 16 October 2020 Islamist jihadist assassination of a French middle school teacher.
  2. The 21 October national display of Charlie Hebdo images on French government buildings.
  3. Islamist jihadist jurisprudence.
  4. Threat warnings by Islamist jihadist officials.
  5. Recent Islamist jihadist attacks that responded to Charlie Hebdo imagery.
  6. Islamist jihadists’ ongoing war with France.
  7. Warnings from France’s interior minister predicting more violence.

*In light of recent events, all domestic/international French civilian and government assets are at risk as well.

The 16 October 2020 Islamist jihadist assassination of a French middle school teacher

Reuters reports that on 6 October 2020, French middle-school teacher Samuel Paty showed his students a caricature of the Muslim Prophet Mohammed in a classroom in Conflans-Sainte-Honorine, a Paris suburb. The caricatures came from the satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo, which triggered Islamist jihadist attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s Paris offices in January 2015, plus several other targets. Paty’s lecture was part of a civics class on freedom of speech.

Then, on 16 October, reports Le Monde and the BBC, an Islamist jihadist assassin – a Russian-born Chechnyan who had lived in France since age six – traveled to Paty’s school and asked Muslim children to identify Paty, which they did. The killer then followed the teacher and attacked him with a knife, decapitating him. Afterward, the assassin posted a picture of Paty’s severed head on Twitter and issued the following justification: “To Macron, leader of the infidels, I executed one of your hellhounds who dared to belittle Mohammed, calm his fellow human beings before a harsh punishment is inflicted on you.”

Shortly thereafter, police confronted the killer and shot him dead.

In a pre-recorded message broadcast on Instagram, Le Matin says the killer aimed to avenge the Prophet Mohammed for the blasphemy that Paty orchestrated – insulting and denigrating Mohammed – and he also sought to be a martyr.

On 22 October, the BBC reported that French authorities had arrested seven people accused of aiding and abetting Paty’s killer. The accused include two students (ages 14 and 15), the parent of one of the students, a Muslim preacher known to French intelligence, plus others who communicated with the killer, helped him purchase the knife he used, and drove him to the target area. The killer was supposedly in touch with Islamist Jihadist terror cells in Syria before the attack.

The 21 October national display of Charlie Hebdo images on French government buildings

On 21 October, reports L’Independent, the French government projected massive Charlie Hebdo images of the Prophet on government buildings in Toulouse and Montpellier during a national outcry over Paty’s murder. (In French, the structures are referred to as “l’hôtel de région de” Toulouse and Montpellier, but they are not hotels). The purpose of the French government’s demonstration was to send a message to its citizenry and Islamist jihadists that it was not going to negate its longstanding national laws on freedom of speech and replace them with Islamist jihadist Sharia laws on blasphemy.

Islamist Jihadist jurisprudence

Muslim jurisprudence is divided on blasphemy laws. Moderate Muslims assert verses 3:186, 6:108, 7:199, 25:63, and 49:11 (among others) from the Koran to peacefully deal with those who commit blasphemy against Islam, God, and Islam’s Prophet.

Islamist jihadists differ. They assert that a collection of Koranic verses discussing mockery of Islam, God, and Islam’s Prophet combined with the punishment of non-believers and false Muslims (hypocrites, aka munafiq) justifies the death penalty. These verses include, but are not limited to, 9:61-68, 33:57, 33:60-61.

Some Muslim scholars assert that the death penalty for blasphemy is justified by Hadith No. 4348. In this chronicle, a husband killed his wife (in some cases referred to as a Jewish slave) for constantly insulting the Prophet while he was still alive. The husband was brought before the Prophet over the killing, and he received no punishment, hence making it legal.

MEMRI.org profiled Sheikh Ali Al-Yousuf of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, asserting that Paty’s killing was indeed justified under Sharia law, but that the killer carried out the death sentence outside the Islamist justice system. Sheikh Al-Yousuf said the teacher should have been officially detained, put on trial in a Sharia court, and then executed.

Additionally, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and other countries that use versions of Sharia law as their national laws have enforced blasphemy rulings that have included the death penalty. Since these countries’ laws are rooted in the Koran, Sunnah, and Hadith, their death penalty approaches to blasphemy reinforce the same approach taken by Islamist jihadists.

Islamist jihadists belonging to various terrorist organizations also think the death penalty for blasphemy is appropriate. The Deccan Herald said in October 2020, Fawaz Ould Ahmed, a key leader in the Al-Mourabitoune organization (aka “Ibrahim 10”) told a Mali court that he led an attack on La Terrasse restaurant-nightclub in Bamako as revenge for the Charlie Hebdo cartoons in 2015. He shot a Frenchman in the back with an AK-47 in that attack, among others. Ahmed said, “We are not ashamed; we are proud. It was revenge for the Prophet after what they did at Charlie Hebdo – it’s the photos, the caricatures. And sadly, it’s not over. It’s still continuing.”

Ahmed also led the 2015 attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako that killed 20 and injured seven.

Threat warnings by Islamist jihadist officials

Islamist jihadists believe they must warn an enemy before attacking them. The rules on these warnings, however, are not concrete. Warnings might use less than direct verbiage, and they might also consist of a sermon or online statement with limited reach. Other Islamist jihadists consider Usama bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa against infidels the world over as warning enough.

In the current case of France, scores of mainstream Islamist clerics have branded France’s national displays of the Charlie Hebdo cartoons as a violation of Sharia law. Their statements condemning the cartoons should be considered Islamist jihadist threat warnings. A sample of this rhetoric follows.

Sheikh Ikrima Sabri, head of the Palestinian Islamic Supreme Council and Al-Aqsa Mosque, said France’s actions aimed to harm, insult, and ridicule the Prophet Mohammed, reported the Jerusalem Post. He also said, “We hold the French president responsible for acts of chaos and violence that are taking place in France because of his comments against Islam and against Muslims,” reported Reuters.

Palestinian Sheikh Ali Abu Ahmad addressed the Al-Aqsa Mosque, calling for attacks against France, said MEMRI.org. Sheikh Ahmad specifically said that, in the past, Muslims had called for boycotts of European nations that had insulted the Prophet – Denmark and Sweden, for example. He said this approach had failed, and the only solution was for Europe to accept the caliphate. His most poignant threat was, “The Muslim caliph will lead the Muslim armies and they will crush Paris completely, making them forget the whispers of Satan.”

Protesters in Gaza left Friday sermons condemning France’s actions, shouting vengeful intentions: “With our souls and blood we will redeem the Prophet.” They added, “There is no God but God, Macron is the enemy of God,” reported, The News.

The head of Pakistan’s Islamist Tehreek-e-Labbaik party, Khadim Hussain Rizvi, lead 10,000 followers in protest, asserting, “There’s only one punishment for blasphemy,” with his followers shouting, “Beheading! Beheading!” according to Times of Israel.

In Herat, Afghanistan, The News cited a small crowd shouting, Death to France! Death to Macron!”.

Sudanese Islamic Scholar Mohammed Abd Al-Karim justified Paty’s killing, saying that mocking the Prophet was a crime that deserved death. “For every action, there is a reaction,” he said, according to MEMRI.org. Al-Karim also said, “They say that the man [who murdered Samuel Paty] committed a crime, but the main crime that was committed was the crime of hurling insults against the Prophet Mohammed. Macron’s crime was that he did not condemn the offense against the Prophet Mohammed.”

Recent Islamist jihadist attacks that responded to Charlie Hebdo imagery

Immediately after the French government protested the assassination of Samuel Paty by projecting Charlie Hebdo images of the Prophet Mohammed on buildings, Islamist jihadists conducted two revenge attacks: one in Nice, France, and one in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

In Nice, on 29 October, an Islamist jihadist entered the Basilica of Notre-Dame and attacked three people with a knife, reports Forbes. Shouting “Allahu Akbar,” the attacker killed all three, one of which he beheaded. Metro said the beheading victim was a 60-year old female. Police shot the assailant, who was rushed to the hospital under custody.

In Jeddah, hours after the church attack in Nice, a man attacked a guard at the French consulate with a “sharp tool,” said The Guardian. The analysis was that the attack was linked to the Charlie Hebdo displays. The guard was hospitalized for his injuries.

Islamist jihadists’ ongoing war with France

Islamist jihadists have been waging a slow but continual war against France since at least 2012. Since that year, France has suffered approximately 40 Islamist jihadist attacks. Tactics have included hammer attacks, stabbings, shootings, and vehicle attacks. In three cases, groups of attackers carried out devastating raids using firearms and/or explosives. Targets have included random pedestrians, Catholic priests, police, soldiers, students, teachers, a Jewish school, Kosher grocery stores, churches, bars, restaurants, sports stadiums, police stations, concert theaters, and newspaper offices. These attacks have killed over 250 and wounded over 800. Combined, this amounts to over 1,000 casualties in eight years.

Warnings from France’s interior minister predicting more violence

The Express said that on 30 October, in the wake of Paty’s assassination and the attacks in Nice, France’s interior minister, Gerald Damarnin, announced more attacks were likely because Islamist jihadists were targeting the country. As a result, France went on the highest homeland security alert level possible (the Vigipirate alert system, level “Urgence Attentat”), and the government surged police and military forces all over the country.

Takeaways

The overall trend analysis from the above information demonstrates that Islamist jihadists have the ideological fervor, networks, tradecraft, materials, personnel, and tactical prowess to carry out a steady stream of terrorist attacks (most of them small, three of them significant) on a wide range of civilian and government targets in France. These attacks have been effective, as evidenced by their combined casualty rates.

While it is true that Islamist jihadists have not staged a deliberate attack on a major hotel in France, the environment is ripe for one domestically and internationally. There are four reasons.

First, the rage and Islamist-justified revenge factor over the most recent Charlie Hebdo cartoon displays cannot be overemphasized. Islamist jihadism lives off victimhood, resentment, anger, and the thirst for retaliation. Without these emotional motivations, along with the promise of paradise in the afterlife, Islamist jihadists would not have been able to convince their ranks to steadily commit gruesome, Charles Manson-like murders and suicide attacks on a massive scale for 19 years following the 11 September 2001 attacks. France’s 21 October depictions of Islam’s Prophet evoked the global Islamist jihadist community’s most hostile emotions. To them, this was a bitter, epic slap in the face, a humiliating attack on their religion, their way of life, and their most sacred religious exemplar.

Second, violent revenge is the Islamist jihadist solution to rectify this slight. It was in the case of Bamako in 2015, and in the recent cases of Samuel Paty and Nice, and, in the words of Islamist jihadist leaders mentioned above, there will be more revenge attacks. The French government says there will be more as well. It appears that a few stabbings and beheadings are not enough to avenge this affront.

Third, because of the above two issues, Islamist jihadists will likely seek to make violent statements through both small and sensational attacks. These statements might include attacks on hotels/resorts. Here is why:

  1. Global Islamist jihadists include hotels and resorts in their standard targeting regimen – Muir Analytics has statistically proved this in its SecureHotel Threat Portal database.
  2. Hotel/resort attacks usually achieve sensational headlines and/or high casualty rates.
  3. France’s economy depends heavily on the hospitality/tourism sector, and wounding the French economy is a key Islamist jihadist goal.

Accordingly, Muir Analytics considers French hotels and resorts, both domestic and international, to be at exceedingly high risk in the current threat environment.

Fourth, because of increased security in France, and because of a second Covid lockdown that began on 30 October, Islamist jihadists might find it easier to carry out attacks on international French assets such as embassies, consulates (like the Jeddah attack), businesses, French business travelers and tourists, and hotels/resorts. Some of the most prominent French hotel/resort brands with international footprints are:

  1. Accor.
  2. Groupe Du Louvre.
  3. Club Med.
  4. Warwick International Hotels.

Muir Analytics also assesses that French citizens at non-French branded hotels and resorts might be targeted.

Regarding timing, Islamist jihadists can be both immediate and patient with their attacks. As demonstrated by the Samuel Paty and Nice murders, they can mobilize quickly for reactionary revenge attacks, or, as evidenced by the damaging Paris raids by more than nine attackers in November 2015, they can take their time, plan, gather logistics, and wait for the right opportunity to execute dynamic, punishing attacks. Therefore, domestic and international French target sets should consider themselves at risk for the near, intermediate, and long term. This includes hotels and resorts.

French hotels and resorts, both domestic and international, should increase physical security now and maintain it into the foreseeable future. They should anticipate tactics ranging from physical assaults, stabbings, shootings, arson, and vehicle attacks to more devastating raids and bombings. Chemical and biological attacks cannot be ruled out. Other creative attacks cannot be ruled out either, such as drone or aircraft attacks. Again, rage, revenge, punishment, and making a major statement are the key drivers here.

French hotel/resort risk managers should secure insurance policies that specifically address these threats. Crisis management and resilience plans should be updated and readied to deal with attacks, both large and small.

Hotel/resort threat intelligence like that contained in Muir Analytics’ SecureHotel Threat Portal should be applied in all these endeavors to enhance the effectiveness of hotel/resort security, insurance, and crisis response.

Sources and further reading

Nice terror suspect, 21, sent selfie to family just hours before killings,” Metro, 2 November 2020.

Anti-France protests draw thousands in Asia, ME,” The News, 1 November 2020.

“‘Beheading! Beheading!’ shout anti-France Muslim protesters in Pakistan,” World Israel News, 31 October 2020.

Hezbollah: Macron ‘dragging’ France into battle with Islam,” Kayhan, 31 October 2020.

“‘Death to France’: Tens of thousands of Muslims protest against Macron,” Times of Israel, 30 October 2020.

Paris horror: Knifeman charges police officers in broad daylight day after terror attack,” Express, 30 October 2020.

France: A timeline of deadly attacks after latest atrocity,” Sky News, 30 October 2020.

Mahathir Mohamad says his remarks after French attack were taken out of context,” The Guardian, 31 October 2020.

Tens of thousands of Muslims protest over Macron remarks after killings in France,” Reuters, 30 October 2020.

Man arrested in Saudi Arabia after alleged knife attack at French consulate,” The Guardian, 29 October 2020.

Woman beheaded, two others killed in suspected terror attack in France, gunman killed in separate incident,” Forbes, 29 October 2020.

Jihadists celebrate Nice terror attack as ISIS and al-Qaeda supporters call for more attacks against France in sickening online propaganda,” Daily Mail, 29 October 2020.

Palestinians call for ‘day of rage’ to protest offensive cartoons,” Jerusalem Post, 29 October 2020.

2015 Mali attack was ‘revenge’ for Charlie Hebdo cartoons: Defendant,” Decan Herald, 28 October 2020.

Al-Aqsa mosque address by Sheikh Ali Abu Ahmad: Boycotting French products is not the answer to Macron; we should establish a caliphate, crush Paris with our armies,” MEMRI.org, 25 October 2020.

L’assassin était en contact avec un djihadiste russe,” Le Matin, 22 October 2020.

France teacher attack: Seven charged over Samuel Paty’s killing,” BBC, 22 October 2020.

Montpellier: 6 unes de Charlie Hebdo sur la façade de l’hôtel de région,” L’Independent, 21 October 2020.

France shuts Paris mosque in crackdown after teacher’s beheading,” Reuters, 20 October 2020.

Sheikh Ali Al-Yousuf of the International Union of Muslim Scholars: Killing of French teacher Paty was in keeping with the ruling of the Shari’a but it should have been done by the Islamic State, not by just any individual,” MEMRI.org, 18 October 2020.

Attentat de Conflans: ce que l’on sait de l’enquête après le meurtre brutal de Samuel Paty,” Le Monde, 18 October 2020.

France teacher attack: Suspect ‘asked pupils to point Samuel Paty out’,” BBC, 17 October 2020.

Sudanese Islamic Scholar Muhammad Abd Al-Karim on beheading of French teacher: The offensive cartoons were the main crime; for every action there is a reaction,” MEMRI.org, 17 October 2020.

For a teacher in France, a civics class was followed by a gruesome death,” Reuters, 16 October 2020.

Timeline: Attacks in France,” BBC, 26 July 2016.

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