Friday morning’s attack in Paris in which a machete-wielding man was shot and wounded in the stomach by a French soldier after he injured another soldier near the Louvre museum is the first terrorist incident in France since July. Then two teenagers murdered an elderly priest in his Normandy church, an attack that shocked and repulsed in equal measure.
While the full details of Friday’s incident are still to emerge, it hasn’t the hallmarks of a determined and well-organised attack. There were no explosives in the two backpacks recovered at the scene and launching oneself at two armed soldiers holding just a machete is frightening but foolhardy. Nonetheless, interior minister Bruno Le Roux rightly lauded the ‘sangfroid and professionalism’ of the soldiers involved.
But to kill wasn’t the primary purpose of the attacker, who reportedly screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he charged at the soldiers. It’s to scare the public and remind the politicians that Islamic extremism hasn’t disappeared. Perhaps it was just a coincidence that the attack happened the day before Marine Le Pen officially launches her presidential campaign with a congress in Lyon. ‘Support to our soldiers who are in the frontline against the Islamic threat & barbarity’ tweeted the National Front leader, shortly after news broke of the incident. One noticeable aspect of the recent Socialist primary, which was won by Benoît Hamon, was a distinct reluctance to discuss what his president, Francois Hollande, has described as the ‘problem of Islam’ in France. Hamon also tweeted, expressing his gratitude to the soldiers for safeguarding the country ‘against terrorism’.
While the attack will dominate the headlines over the weekend, in the longer term it will damage still further the ailing French tourism industry. The Guardian may have spent Thursday fretting about the drop in visitors to British museums, bizarrely fingering Brexit as one of the causes, but in France tourist numbers are in freefall and for one reason only.
In December, Le Figaro reported on what it described as ‘a black year’ for the tourism industry in Paris with overseas hotel guests down by ten per cent, a figure all the more troubling given that the country hosted the 2016 European football championships, normally guaranteed to swell numbers. Museums and galleries were also affected with with foreign visitors to the Louvre down 20 per cent to 5.3 million, costing the gallery nearly 10 million euros (£8.6m). Louvre director Jean-Luc Martinez admitted 2016 had been ‘a difficult year’ and 2017 looks like it could be even worse.