Late last month, France’s intelligence services announced they had uncovered an extremist cell plotting an attack on national soil. The group, which calls itself the Operational Forces Action, had begun testing explosives and stockpiling weapons. Police found homemade grenades, a guide titled Homemade Napalm, 14 handguns, 22 rifles, and thousands of ammunition cartridges. Its 10 members were immediately charged with terrorist conspiracy; some were also charged with illegal possession of firearms and explosives manufacturing.
French security forces have prevented scores of attacks since January 2015. But this one was different. The AFO—the organization’s French acronym—is a far-right vigilante group with the stated mission to fight the “Islamic peril,” arguing that authorities have been too lax in combating terrorism and preventing radicalization. Its members intended to execute veiled women and imams and poison the food at halal grocery stores.
Those chilling plans drew initial media attention, but the news quickly faded. The Interior Ministry announced it had been tracking the AFO since mid-April, and the group’s ringleader—a former police officer, Guy Sibra—was subsequently released with “judicial supervision.”
The AFO is an offshoot of Volunteers for France, or VPF, a legal organization with the same ideology but that claims to disavow violent tactics. The media have referred to the AFO as the “ultra-right,” to distinguish it from far-right political parties. That notably includes the recently renamed National Rally—the party formerly known as the National Front, which made unprecedented gains in the 2017 presidential elections.
National Rally leader Marine Le Pen immediately condemned the AFO’s plans, though Louis Aliot, a legislator from her party, seemed to understand where they were coming from. “If groups are forming to defend themselves,” he told the newspaper L’Opinion, “it is first and foremost because the state is being soft on radical Islam,” an explanation echoed by others on the far right.
The AFO’s Sibra, for his part, assisted with the National Front’s campaign efforts during the 2015 regional elections. One National Rally spokesperson denied any official links, but an administrative secretary, who had recruited Sibra at the time, called him “trustworthy,” “balanced,” and “proud of his land.”