The Samovar

Fake terrorism as a commercial strategy?

The small news here in Paris is that five explosive packages (pleasingly, pains d’explosifs in French, which would literally be explosive breads) were found in the big Printemps department store on Boulevard Hausmann (link in English, more up to date link in French). The curious thing though, is that there were no fuses on the explosives. In other words, they couldn’t have detonated! And this isn’t the only curious thing about the case. The French news agency AFP received a letter from a group that was entirely unknown called the Front révolutionnaire afghan (FRA) which the antiterrorist police say hardly fits the style of these things at all. There are no religious references, and instead they use anti-capitalist language. Also, the type of explosive found (dynamite) isn’t typically used by Islamic terrorists.

So there are various theories about what is going on here. One possibility is that this is a warning, the message is that we have explosives and we’re not afraid to use them, so listen to our demands (removal of French troops from Afghanistan). The fact that the actions are atypical suggests maybe that this is not a group with ties to established terrorist organisations, but the work of a small group without ties or even a single individual. And this is probably correct.

However. There is another possibility. The question is: who has the most to gain from this? Who gains from one of the biggest department stores in France being effectively shut down for most of a day in the run up to Christmas? Surely the rivals to Printemps on boulevard Haussman, the Galeries Lafayette, who would most likely have got all the business that Printemps would have got during that day? I don’t know how much these shops would make during a day, but I’d imagine it’s really quite a lot, making it a risky but highly effective strategy.

Now I’m not suggesting that Lafayette did this, indeed it’s very unlikely. It would be incredibly risky for them, and anyway the note delivered to AFP says that the would-be terrorists are targeting the “grands magasins” (referring to both Printemps and Lafayette), and so this could potentially hurt both their profits. Still, it’s an interesting question: are fake terrorist incidents being created by companies to hurt their rivals and increase their own business? It seems like a strategy that would be too good to resist.

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