By Michael Ireland, Senior Correspondent, ASSIST News Service, www.assistnews.net
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (ANS, July 15, 2016) – An international coalition of crisis-trained chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team are returning to France to offer emotional and spiritual care on the streets of Nice following Thursday night’s horrific terror attack.
Though the situation continues to develop and unfold, the latest news reports indicate that some 84 people died in the violent Bastille Day attack. Dozens more were injured, of which 50 were in critical condition after 31-year-old French-Tunisian man, Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, drove a truck into a crowd. While details are emerging, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel was killed following a shoot-out with police, and connections to any terrorist organization are still unclear.
“Once again we find ourselves staring into the face of terror and evil,” said Jack Munday, international director of the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team. “We will bring a light of hope into a very dark situation, providing a ministry of presence for those who want to talk, pray, or grieve. So many need our prayers right now.”
Franklin Graham, president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, used Twitter to ask for prayer following the tragedy: “Pray for France as the country grieves the loss of 84 people and many more wounded in the terror attack in #Nice.”
The joint effort of the U.S., Canada and U.K. Billy Graham Rapid Response Teams includes French-speaking chaplains. It is anticipated that they will be joined by newly-trained chaplains from Paris and Brussels, cities that have also weathered terrorist attacks in recent months.
The deployment to Nice marks the seventh time in the last 10 months that the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team has sent chaplains into areas involved in mass shootings or terror attacks. Chaplains are currently ministering in Dallas following the shooting deaths of five law enforcement officers last week, and they recently completed their ministry in Orlando after the massacre of 49 people in the Pulse nightclub.
The group also responded to Brussels, Belgium (March 2016), San Bernardino, CA, (December 2016), Paris, France (November 2016), and Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, OR (October 2016).
Additionally, chaplains continue to minister in Baton Rouge, LA., Brazoria County, Texas, Kanawha County, W.V., and Greenbrier County, W.V.
Last night’s attack on crowds celebrating Bastille Day in Nice was the latest in a series of terror attacks in France.
“’Lone wolf’ and small-cell terror attacks are hard to predict, and to prevent. But we can protect ourselves by taking on extremist thinking,” says Peter Welby, managing editor for the Center on Religion & Politics (CRG), which, through reports, media commentary, events and policy briefings, provides understanding, with informed analysis on the interaction of religion and conflict globally, offering policy responses to meet the scale of the challenge.(http://tonyblairfaithfoundation.org).
The Group says policy makers can no longer ignore the threat posed by violent religious ideologies, but if they are to be defeated, they must be understood.
Welby writes: “Since January 2015 alone, at least 238 have been killed in 10 assaults across the country (France). Although no group has claimed last night’s attack – and we don’t yet know the motivations of the attacker – ISIS supporters on social media are celebrating as if it was carried out by one of their own.”
Welby comments: “The incident itself raises many questions. How can we defend against a weapon as ubiquitous as a lorry? Why is France the victim of such extensive violence? And, regardless of the motives of the attacker, how do we prevent jihadi groups claiming such attacks as PR victories? How do we prevent jihadi groups claiming such attacks as PR victories?”
He continues: “Both ISIS and al-Qaeda have long encouraged simple attacks by individuals across the West. Such encouragement explicitly calls on would-be jihadis to do whatever is within their capabilities, with whatever weapons they can come across. These ‘low investment, high impact’ attacks are starting to become more common as ISIS loses more ground in the Iraq and Syria. In fact ISIS’ spokesman, Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, recently put out a call to ISIS supporters to carry out attacks exactly like the massacre in Nice.
“Using vehicles as a lethal weapon is a tactic that has been used used repeatedly in Israel over the past year. It was employed by the murderers of Fusilier Lee Rigby in London in 2013, and also previously in France. Nevertheless, this is by far the most serious assault of this kind, with the third highest death toll from a terror attack in Europe since 2000.”
Welby says that the attacker was a French-Tunisian dual citizen known to the police for violent crime, who had no known terrorist links.
“This fits a common narrative of the propensity of criminals to turn to terror, although research shows that, at least for senior jihadis, this is not always the case. It does, however, demonstrate the ease with which someone can be motivated to carry out attacks, even if they are acting alone. On top of that, the way we all operate online means that a curious internet user can find extremist content via a simple Google search, without having face-to-face contact with extremist recruiters. Such material can radicalize individuals.”
Nevertheless, says Welby, “Despite encouragement from ISIS and al-Qaeda for their sympathizers in the West to attack wherever they can, France has been disproportionately targeted. More than 1,000 French citizens may have travelled to Iraq and Syria to fight for ISIS and other jihadi groups, but this is not the highest number per capita in Europe. Still, propaganda encouraging attacks has singled out the French particularly. An October 2014 issue of Dabiq, ISIS’ English-language propaganda magazine, called for attacks on all who have participated in airstrikes against the group, but especially the ‘spiteful and filthy French.’ “
He adds: “In part, this is because ISIS and al-Qaeda regard France as fighting a particular war against Islam. But it also reflects history: France’s conquest of Algeria in the 19th century was presented by many within France as a continuation of the crusades. Meanwhile, Salafi-jihadi groups in the civil war that engulfed Algeria in the 1990s launched attacks on France regarding it as supporting a dictatorship attacking their ‘pure’ Islamic movement. Research from CRG shows the importance of that war to the current global Salafi-jihadi movement.”
To prevent attacks like this, Welby says we must ask how the attacker was radicalized in the first place.
“Attacks such the one in Nice last night – particularly carried out with weapons as crude and deadly as a heavy goods vehicle – can rarely be predicted with sufficient accuracy to prevent them, but that does not mean that there is no defense. By the time an individual has decided to murder as many people as possible in the name of their brutal and primitive theological understanding, only the security services are in a position to do anything about it. The key to ensuring attacks like this become a feature of the past is to ask how the individual got into that position in the first place.”
According to Welby’s analysis, CRG research has shown clearly the importance of ideology in driving Islamist violence.
“Though there are myriad reasons that an individual might be drawn to terror, it is the ideology that gives cohesion to the movement, and provides some pathetic justification to the attacker for their violence. It is only through a sustained assault on that ideology that such attacks can be prevented in the long run.
Welby concludes: “This requires intense support for mainstream Muslim voices who are working hard to dismantle the ideology of Islamism at its weakest point: its interpretation of Islamic theology. These efforts are harmed by attempts to suggest that Islam itself is the problem. The Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ended last week, saw thousands of Muslims murdered in Islamist violence. If we turn our legitimate assault on Islamist extremism into an assault on Islam itself, we are doing PR for ISIS and al-Qaeda ourselves.”
For more information on the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team ministry, including videos, photos, news articles and an interactive map of former and current deployments, visit www.billygraham.org/rrt. Updates can also be found at www.facebook.com/RRTChaplains.
The Billy Graham Rapid Response Team was developed by Franklin Graham and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It has since grown into a nationwide network of chaplains in 48 states who are specifically trained to deal with crisis situations. They have deployed to more than 225 disaster sites, including shootings, floods, hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes.
Photo Captions: 1) Billy Graham Rapid Response Team Chaplain Laurent Trabadello comforts a bystander after the Paris attacks in November, 2015 (BGEA Photo/Benjamin Girette). 2) Peter Welby, Managing Editor of the Center on Religion & Politics (CRG)[Tony Blair Foundation]. 3) Bodies strewn in the street after the Nice attack. 4) Michael Ireland.
About the Writer: Michael Ireland is a volunteer internet journalist serving as Senior Correspondent for the ASSIST News Service, as well as an Ordained Minister who has served with ASSIST Ministries and written for ASSIST News Service since its beginning in 1989. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China, and Russia. To help partner with Michael in ministry, log-on to: https://ACTINTL.givingfuel.com/ireland-michael.
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