National celebration marred by attack: Is this Europe's new normal?

The French Riviera city of Nice was already on high alert, just like the rest of the country. The sight of heavily armed soldiers patrolling major landmarks began to seem workaday; people became accustomed to showing their bag contents before entering shops.

But even with repeated warnings that the terrorist threat remained high, and extensions of the country's state of emergency, the end seemed near. Surely, France would revert back to its pre-attack bonhomie. The football championship was over. The state of emergency was set to expire on July 26.

With the latest attack in Nice, though, that expectation was dashed and another sentiment set in. "We are facing a war that terrorism brings, and the goal of the terrorists is to instill fear and panic," Prime Minister Manuel Valls said.

He wasn't the only official invoking a war. "I have always been on the side of those claiming more measures to fight terrorism because I remained convinced that we are at war," said local politician and regional president Christian Estrosi.

French President Francois Hollande announced in the early hours of Friday that the state of the emergency would be extended by another three months and said that France would reinforce its military presence in Iraq and Syria. He gathered ministers to assess security measures.

This vigilance, just recently unthinkable, may start to be intensified instead. And the difficult questions Europe has avoided by invoking a temporary situation may have to be confronted in all their discomfort.

"I think that most of the European states need to make decisions about what comes first: human rights or the right to live," Israeli Brigadier-General Nitzan Nuriel told dpa.

"As long as they are still debating about issues like that they don't make decisions. And I have the feeling, without criticizing anyone, that they are not ready yet to make these decisions. You can't do those [security measures] without affecting the routine a little bit," he added.

France's state of emergency allows for expanded police powers, including house searches and detentions without a warrant. Earlier this year, the government sought to enshrine some of the measures more permanently, including rules stripping French citizenship from convicted terrorists, but that effort was thwarted.

The then minister of justice, Christiane Taubira, resigned in protest of the proposals. Major human rights groups said the hundreds of searches and detentions were targeting Muslims in discriminatory ways and represented a troubling overreach without sufficient justification.

The line between ensuring people's safety and safeguarding civil protections has fomented bitter debates in France, where liberty is one of the country's most precious principles.

Calls to refrain from overly militarized responses have also resounded on the European level, and left-leaning EU lawmaker Barbara Spinelli said recently that, "In France, as in America, we are witnessing a change in the form of terrorism and radicalization.

"We must try to understand how this transition occurred, without focussing obsessively on individual triggers such as the internet, prisons, schools and the banlieues (suburbs) of Paris. Responding with more state surveillance, less democracy, Islamophobia and proxy wars is only making the situation worse," Spinelli said.

At the same time, after the attack in Nice, Germany said police would step up border controls with France, planning identity checks on anyone suspicious found in the areas near the border to ensure they are not providing assistance to suspects trying to flee France.

After the terrorist attacks in Paris on November 13 that left 130 people dead, one of the key suspects escaped over the border to Belgium without being stopped by authorities.

The Italian government also said that it had tightened security, in particular at high-risk sites. British Prime Minister Theresa May asked her deputy national security adviser to chair a meeting of the government's emergency committee "to review what we know and what we can do to help."

With lone attackers who are difficult to track, using means that are tough to control, it is still unclear just how much security would have to be employed to thwart such strikes, and exactly what sacrifice such security would entail.

"I belong to the people who believe that terrorism will stay around us forever. As we got used to criminality we need to get used to terror attacks. The only request we can have is to keep it on the lowest level that we can," Nuriel said.

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