Three people were killed in a knife attack Oct. 29, 2020, at the Notre Dame Basilica in the French city of Nice. (Office of Nice Mayor Christian Estrosi/Twitter)

ISIS Spotlights France Stabbings, Calls for Attacks to Force Enactment of Blasphemy Laws

Just hours after three people were killed this morning 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 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, Brahim Aouissaoui, was wounded by police and taken into custody. Officials said he is a Tunisian national who arrived in Italy last month, and that the slayings are being treated as a terrorist attack.

Also today, a Saudi citizen was arrested after stabbing a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah. The guard suffered minor wounds.

France raised its terror alert level to “emergency” after today’s Nice attack. 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.

The new 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.

Al-Naba is published and distributed online every Thursday. Though the photo appeared to be from a news agency and showed a wounded person being loaded into an ambulance at today’s Nice crime scene, the article did not specifically mention today’s attack.

It continued to incite 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.”

In recent days, al-Qaeda issued a statement declaring France to be a target and inciting attacks. In last 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.”

A few days after Paty’s murder, “The Voice of Hind,” a monthly magazine released online by ISIS supporters in India, ran a full-page graphic urging more attacks and incorporating a photo of the severed head of the French teacher.

“If your freedom of expression doesn’t stop you from criticizing prophet Muhammad PBUH then our swords will not stop defending the honour of prophet Muhammad PBUH,” the image said, with a cutout photo of Paty’s head below a graphic of a sword.

In August, the English-language magazine urged followers to “race” to emulate the Charlie Hebdo attack, arguing that governments aren’t doing enough to punish those viewed by the terror group as blasphemers.

The article then called the 2015 Charlie Hebdo mass shooting, in which brothers Chérif and Saïd Kouachi killed 12 people at the satirical magazine’s offices, attack an operation “with Faith and riffles [sp]” to “wreak havoc in the broad daylight to avenge the Messenger (PBUH) for being abused by this newspaper.”

The Kouachis and “all those brothers who come out” to attack accused blasphemers are “leaving a clear path for others to follow,” the magazine stated, as “we cannot expect the disbelieving and apostate governments to carry out the punishment for the blasphemy prescribed by Islam.” That punishment, the article continued, is “nothing but death,” and followers should “race to one another to carry out this obligation.”

“If we do not become forceful, then the assaults on our religion… will continue,” the text stated, calling on supporters to “take revenge on each and every one who has insulted our beloved Messenger (PBUH).”

Subsequently, on Sept. 11, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula issued a message calling on Muslims living in France to conduct attacks, referencing the Charlie Hebdo attack.

AQAP claimed the 2015 attack. Fourteen suspects accused of aiding the Kouachis’ plot went on trial last month.

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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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