Attacks in France Point to a Threat Beyond Extremist Networks – The New York Times

News of the stabbing appeared to push into action an 18-year-old refugee of Chechen descent, Abdoullakh Anzorov, who grew up in France and, in recent months, had become active on extremist social media sites. On the same day of the stabbing, Mr. Anzorov began looking for the addresses of individuals who had offended Islam, according to an analysis of his deleted Twitter account by Le Monde.

Eventually, he settled on a middle-school teacher whose showing of Charlie Hebdo caricatures in a class on freedom of expression had angered many Muslim parents and students. Armed with a knife and two pellet guns, he beheaded the teacher, Samuel Paty, on Oct. 16.

“In these last three attacks, there’s an absence of political demand but just a religious demand,” Wassim Nasr, a journalist specializing on the jihadist movement and an author of a book on the Islamic State, said, adding that the assailants were “fanatics” rather than “jihadists.”

The religious anger, stemming from the republication of the caricatures, has enlarged the pool of potential terrorists, Mr. Nasr said, adding that it played into the jihadist movement’s narrative that all Muslims are concerned by their fight.

But instead of acknowledging the exclusively religious fanaticism behind the attacks, the French government has given them a political dimension, he said.

“That becomes counterproductive,” he said.

The French government has said that the main threat comes from “Islamist separatism,” what it describes as a homegrown radical Islamist network that has mounted a challenge to France’s strict secularism. In response to the recent attacks, the French authorities have cracked down on Muslim individuals and organizations they have described as Islamist.

Olivier Roy, a political scientist at the European University Institute in Florence and a specialist in Islam, said that the French government’s response was inappropriate given the new nature of the threat.