Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi and his wife Laura pay respects at the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Nice, where flowers were left after a deadly terror attack on Oct. 29, 2020. (Nice Mayor’s Office/Twitter)

Al-Qaeda, Al Shabaab Urge ‘Gallant Knights’ to Globally Emulate France Terror Attacks

Driven by recent terror attacks in France, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Al-Shabaab have issued statements telling followers that they should emulate the assaults, with the latter declaring that “the hypocritical slogans of freedom and liberalism are nothing more than a disguise intended to conceal the sinister plots of the crusaders.”

“Killing the one who insults the prophet is the right of every Muslim capable of applying it,” AQIM declared in its statement, which told would-be jihadists to “not ask for authorization to kill the one who insults the prophet” but to mind sharia law and “spare those whom it is illegitimate to target.”

Al Shabaab declared that lone jihadists “across the globe continue to shake the world with their glorious feats and heroic operations” and have proven that they “will never abandon seeking vengeance” for perceived insults of Muhammad, “a crime that bears dire consequences.”

Mentioning the France attacks, Al Shabaab called the terrorists “gallant knights” who “have treaded the path of the noble companions in dealing with those who malign our religion.” The terror group then advised others to follow in those footsteps as well in a “war” against secularism, naming recent attackers in France “and the other unknown soldiers of Allah.”

Al Shabaab wrapped up with a message directed to France, quoting Osama bin Laden: “If your freedom of speech has no restraints, then you should be willing to accept the freedom of our actions.”

The AQIM statement said a boycott of French products — a list was circulated online in recent days by ISIS supporters — was the “minimum for a believer” but said that “any Muslim capable” should commit acts like the recent beheading of a French teacher.

While neither al-Qaeda nor ISIS have claimed responsibility for the attacks, both terror groups are using the incidents to encourage similar attacks with a message of singular purpose trumping assignment of blame to one group or another.

Just hours after three people were killed last week in a knife attack in Nice, France, ISIS published a full-page article in its regularly scheduled weekly newsletter featuring a photo from the attack scene and a call to threaten France to the extent that the country would feel driven to ban depictions of Muhammad.

Three people were fatally stabbed Thursday at Nice’s Notre Dame Basilica, with one of the victims escaping the church but succumbing to her wounds in a nearby cafe where she sought help. One of the victims in the basilica reportedly had her throat slit.

The suspect, Tunisian national Brahim Aouissaoui, 21, was wounded by police and taken into custody. Aouissaoui is still in the hospital and has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Agence France-Presse; a source told the news agency that he had not yet been questioned and “his prognosis remains uncertain.”

On Oct. 16, French teacher Samuel Paty was beheaded walking home from school after one of his recent classes studied freedom of expression in the context of the Charlie Hebdo Muhammad cartoons. On Sept. 25, two people standing outside of Charlie Hebdo’s former office were attacked with a meat cleaver and survived the assault.

France raised its terror alert to its highest level after Thursday’s Nice attack. Then on Monday evening, a gunman killed at least four people and injured 22 after opening fire in the center of Vienna in what Austrian government officials are calling an Islamist terror attack. The gunman shot and killed by police, Austrian-born Fejzulai Kujtim, 20, of St. Poelten, was sentenced in April 2019 to 22 months for attempting to go to Syria to join ISIS, but was released in December.

ISIS released a video online Tuesday showing the shooter, holding a handgun, machete, and rifle, making a loyalty pledge to ISIS leader Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi.

The ISIS article in the group’s weekly al-Naba newsletter published Thursday incited violence against France, stating that “the French continue to mock the Messenger” and arguing that European nations wouldn’t change blasphemy laws to the terror group’s liking “unless there is a true threat to the lives and interests of their subjects.”

Al-Qaeda previously issued a statement declaring France to be a target and inciting attacks. And in the previous week’s issue of al-Naba, ISIS featured a photo of Abdullakh Anzorov, the 18-year-old Chechen fatally shot by police after killing Paty, and praised him as a “martyr.” The article also noted that young would-be jihadists conducting individual attacks on their home soil often can’t hijack a plane or plant an IED “inside a train, bus, or the like” because these are “operations that require capabilities they cannot afford” — instead, the terror group said, “urge them to do what they can … with what they have in their hands.”

The latest ISIS article said demonstrations have unfolded as “reasonably understood” expressions of anger in areas of the Muslim world after French President Emmanuel Macron said in an Oct. 2 address that “Islam is a religion which is experiencing a crisis today, all over the world,” and said there is a need to build an “Islam des Lumières,” or Islam of Enlightenment. But the terror group also brushed off protests and calls for boycotts against France as “temporary enthusiasm” and pointed to eventual fatigue for and disintegration of the 2005 boycott of Danish products after the newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a dozen Muhammad editorial cartoons.

“By targeting the major French companies working in Muslim countries, and threatening their interests, this will push the governments and companies to call on their people not to provoke Muslims because of the influence it has on the safety of their citizens and the activity of their economy, and even issuing laws that criminalize it if the danger increases to them more,” the article said.

The new AQIM statement, which said boycotts were the minimum acceptable course of action, said that the French “must know that the continuation of this campaign by their president will only increase the resolve of Muslims to avenge those who attack the Prophet.”

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Bridget Johnson is the Managing Editor for Homeland Security Today. A veteran journalist whose news articles and analyses have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe, Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor and a foreign policy writer at The Hill. Previously she was an editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and syndicated nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. Bridget is a senior fellow specializing in terrorism analysis at the Haym Salomon Center. She is a Senior Risk Analyst for Gate 15, a private investigator and a security consultant. She is an NPR on-air contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, New York Observer, National Review Online, Politico, New York Daily News, The Jerusalem Post, The Hill, Washington Times, RealClearWorld and more, and has myriad television and radio credits including Al-Jazeera, BBC and SiriusXM.

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