François Hollande is facing a severe political backlash in the wake of the Nice attack as rightwing politicians accused him of failing to implement sufficiently effective security and intelligence measures after previous atrocities.
The French president, who travelled to Nice with the prime minister, Manuel Valls, after delivering an ashen-faced TV address at 4am from the presidential palace, was under pressure to explain what concrete measures he had taken since the Paris attacks in November to crack down on the threat of terrorism. The motivation for Thursday’s attack is not yet known, but it is being investigated as an act of terror.
The president announced a three-month extension of the state of national emergency, which allows police to conduct house raids and searches without a warrant or judicial oversight and gives extra powers to officials to place people under house arrest, insisting: “Nothing will make us yield in our will to fight terrorism. We will further strengthen our actions in Iraq and in Syria. We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”
But the extension of the state of national emergency was condemned as a cosmetic measure designed to reassure the French public. With the presidential primary campaigns effectively under way, the tone of the criticism was unusually sharp for a time of national crisis and mourning.
Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far-right Front National who polls say will reach the second round of next year’s election, said: “Nothing that we have proposed has been put in place. Considering the new nature of terrorism which is now a terrorism of opportunity … the urgency is to attack the ideology on which this terrorism is based. And in this space, nothing has been done, absolutely nothing – no reintroduction of double punishment, nor depriving people of nationality, nor the closure of salafist mosques … nor the banning of certain organisations. In truth, we are not at war. For the moment, we are in a war of words.”