The Bastille Day attack at Nice that killed at least 84 people brings to life the worst nightmare of the French security forces.
President Francois Hollande and his security forces must have heaved a big sigh of relief with the safe and successful organisation of the Euro 2016 football championship, which ended on July 3 with the French football team in their first appearance in a European championship final since 2000.
In the run-up to the tournament, several security experts, and the government itself, had signalled it would be organised in maximum security conditions as the French feared another attack by the Islamic State or ISIS terrorists, after the November 2015 carnage in Paris. Over 130 lives were lost and over 350 were injured as 10 heavily armed gunmen attacked a theatre and several other places in a repeat of the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
However, the Euro 2016 ended safely and was a huge comfort to a French society limping back to normal. So normal that French students and government employees resorted to nearly three months of strikes against an attempt to reform the stringent labour laws that have led to economic stagnation in the country.
The public confidence about security and safety too seemed to be returning as shoppers thronged the malls and life returned to its usual pace. The state of emergency, imposed after the November attacks, was not expected to be extended beyond July 25.
But the Nice attack has put paid to all semblance of normalcy in the country and again exposed the immense threat France continues to face in its battle against terror. The biggest challenge for France and many other European nations is that identifying the next potential terrorist is practically an impossible task. The past attacks have shown that the plots may have been planned elsewhere and by other elements, but the execution was done by European residents, that too not recent arrivals but those born and brought up there.
The driver of the terror truck in Nice is believed to be a French national of Tunisian origin. The population of people with Maghreb origin alone in France is more than 10 per cent and the next terrorist could be anyone from among them -- as past trends have suggested.
Obviously, the entire Muslim population in Europe is not radicalised at all and indeed has happily integrated themselves in their societies and adopted most of their traditions and customs. But there is a minute minority of Muslims, mainly in their teens or 20s that has long felt totally alienated from the European or, in this case, the French society and state.
They have felt for the past several years discriminated against by the society despite the fact they were born and brought up in France. This may not be as big a surprise if one considers that the employment and education rates in the quarters, rather the ghettos, where much of the Maghrebin-origin population of France lives, is almost double or even three times as low as the national or regional average.
A report earlier this week of a government survey found that even for public or government jobs, a candidate's chances sharply is reduced if the person's name was of Muslim origin.
Besides, since the November attacks, the security forces have been aggressively profiling the Muslim population, further alienating them. The security checks at railway stations, airports or streets increasingly target persons clearly resembling Muslims. This, obviously, increases the alienation. After the Nice attack this vicious circle is bound to become worse.
A long and difficult task lies ahead for French leaders and the society in general to curb terror without creating more terrorists from its minority youth.
The desocialisation of some French citizens and the radicalisation of a very tiny minority, even sometimes the Caucasian-stock French, not of Maghreb origin, who have embraced Islam, is a major concern that cannot but solved quickly, even in the medium run.
In the era of social media, the fascination for jehad led hundreds of French nationals to go and fight in Syria. It also brought up new self-radicalised Islamists in the country itself, hard to identify, in a decentralised web of terror pattern.
For France, the Nice attack, a human tragedy, is also an economic disaster for a country which desperately needs to rebuild its attraction, notably in terms of tourism and safety image. Terror acts as a multi-blade razor, cutting down confidence repeatedly, as it strikes regularly.
# Ranvir Nayar is a Paris-based senior Indian journalist. He can be contacted at email@example.com