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French ambassador says death truck driver wasn’t religious, had no known ISIS ties

French Ambassador Gerard Araud says that, so far, there is no known ISIS ties to Mohamed Bouhlel, the man who drove the death truck in Nice, killing more than 80 people. Nor was he on the list of radicalized people France is monitoring, he said. Hari Sreenivasan talks to Araud.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    With me now is the French ambassador to the United States, Gerard Araud.

    Ambassador, our condolences to you on this day.

  • First question:

    Has the government found a connection between the actions of this man, whether he was radicalized by ISIS?

  • GERARD ARAUD, Ambassador, France:

    No.

    So far, while the investigation is going on, but we have — he wasn't on the list of radicalized people that we are monitoring. And we are now investigating his life, and all the testimonies that we have show that the guy wasn't religious, you know, really. So, let's wait the result of what was found in his computer. So maybe there is here we find a link with ISIL. But, so far, there is none.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    What does the French government do to prevent something like this? What more can be done?

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    You know, the problem is that you have two types of terrorism today, one that's the people coming back from Syria where they have been trained, radicalized, and in a sense it's a question of intelligence, to follow them, to see what they are doing, trying to prevent them to come back and to strike.

    But the second type of terrorism, you have the individuals. And that's — it's much more complicated, because individuals, which have absolutely no record of association with radicalized — radical Islam could suddenly do what they are doing, like what he has done today, and that's — for intelligence, for the security, it's quite tough.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    You had an increased state of emergency already since the previous attacks. It didn't work. How would adding more police or military forces to the streets stop an individual with a truck?

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    That's a very good question.

    You know, in a sense, you have had with Orlando exactly the same challenge. So, it means that not only do we have to provide more security to our citizens, with police, but also the army in the streets, but it also means also that we have to solve, and to put an end to the Syrian civil war, which is really the origin of all this violent propaganda.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    How does the French government try to integrate its newcomers any better, because there have been concerns that there are pockets within France, they are keeping to themselves, they aren't understanding perhaps a greater loyalty to the idea of being French?

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    Well, frankly, when you look at the integration of Muslims in Europe, I don't think that the situation in France is worse or even better — or better than the other European countries.

    I think we have — like in this very country in the U.S., we have disenfranchised immigrants. But it's not because you are disenfranchised that you are going to commit these atrocities. It is something else.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    But France has also sent a very large number. More than 100 people have signed up from France, French citizens, to go fight this in Iraq or in Syria.

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    Oh, you have — actually, we have identified 2,000 French citizens who have gone to Syria and Iraq, 2,000.

    I think the figure for the Americans is 200, because of the geography, of course. So, these people, again, they will come back and they will come back with military training, radicalized, rapidly anti-Semitism, and there will be a threat.

    So we are doing our best to intercept them before they enter our territory, to arrest them, to indict them, to prevent them from striking. But you saw that with the attack in November in the Bataclan. There are some of them we have not identified. So, the threat is still there.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Ambassador, while I have you here, you have been hearing the reports today, as we have been watching on television, in Turkey. There are tanks on the street. The president of the country is in an unknown location. He's using FaceTime to try and communicate with his people and tell people to go out to the streets.

    Your thoughts?

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    Well, first, I think our answer is to express our commitment to the defense of the constitutional order in Turkey.

    You know, really, the Turkish government, the Turkish president has been elected by the Turks through a constitutional process. So we can simply express our hope that this constitutional order which will be upheld, and secondly, of course, to hope that there are no civilian casualties.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The sort of correlation or connection here is how important it is for France to be fighting ISIS right now. And how important is the stability of Turkey in that fight?

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    Of course.

    Really, Turkey has — really, at the same time, has suffered a lot because of the Syrian civil war. Millions of immigrants have gone to — the refugees have gone to Turkey. The borders have been destabilized, so really Turkey is carrying really a real burden.

    And Turkey, by definition, considering its geography, has a role to play into solving the Syrian civil war.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And what about the political pushback that you're likely getting right now? We have heard already that the far right and Marine Le Pen is calling for tighter immigration controls and calling out a war on radical Islam.

    Is this something that the government is willing to consider, given the tragedies that you have been experiencing in the past six months?

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    No, what is striking, when you look at political life in Western democracies, from the U.S. to Scandinavia, is that we're facing the same outbreak of (INAUDIBLE) in the U.S., in Britain with Brexit, in France with the National Front, in Scandinavia, and the same outburst against immigration.

    And it's obvious that, when you see these sort of attacks that we have had in Nice, it's — in a sense, it's a spur for opportunism. We will have presidential elections in May 2017, so we will see what is the consequence of the situation.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, French Ambassador to the United States Gerard Araud, thanks so much for your time.

  • GERARD ARAUD:

    Thank you very much.

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