Updated: Mar 11
Introduction & Overview
The FLNC (Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale Corsu, Corsican National Liberation Front) was founded in 1976 as a merger of a few Corsican militant groups opposing French rule. In the following decades, the group remained one of the most active terrorist groups in Europe, with thousands of bombings and shootings to its name. The group declared the cessation of armed struggle in 2014, but they withheld their arsenal. In 2016, the FLNC threatened retaliation against ISIS for any activity in Corsica. Since then, FNLC splinter groups seem to have reorganised.
History & Foundations
Corsica has had a troubled history, but one of the most significant turning points was the French occupation in 1768, which erased the Pasquale Paoli’s Corsican Republic’s sovereignty after years of Genoese rule. In the following centuries, Corsica remained a peripheral territory of the French state.
The FLNC was founded in 1976 as the united organization of some Corsican militant groups. After a sit-in at a French-owned vineyard was repressed with 1200 riot policemen, helicopters and armored cars (1) in August 1975, and after the ARC was banned and some of its members charged (2), militant groups such as Ghjustizia Paolina (“Paoli’s Justice”), Fronte Paesanu Corsu di Liberazione (“Rural Corsican Liberation Front”) and Azzione per a Rinascita Corsa (“Action for Corsican Rebirth”, ARC)(3) decided a new phase of armed struggle was necessary and formed the FLNC.
In the following years, FLNC attacks reached such intensity and frequency that the group easily became the most active and dangerous militant group in Europe at the time. In 1979, the FLNC struck 22 targets in Paris in one night (4). Throughout the 1980s, the FLNC carried out between 600 and 700 bombing attacks per year (5).
By that time, the modus operandi of the FLNC was well-established, with most attacks targeting property and symbols of the French state and its “colonial” presence, such as military bases, police stations, and tribunals (6). Another typical target is property owned by Frenchmen. This culminated with the highest profile killing perpetrated by the FLNC to date, i.e. the assassination of French prefect (state official) Claude Érignac in February 1998, which was carried out in public with three shots to the victim’s head (7). The alleged perpetrator, Yvan Colonna, was only arrested in 2003. Colonna was assaulted in prison in unclear circumstances in 2022, which unleashed a wave of protests and riots in Corsica (8).
In 1990, the FLNC divided into two factions (named “channels”), the FLNC historique (“historical”), and the FLNC habituel (“usual”) (9). During the 1990s, the FLNC suffered a number of splits, which generated other armed groups fighting for Corsican independence, such as Fronte Ribellu (“Rebel Front”, 1995-1999), Fronte Patriotu Corsu (“Corsican Patriotic Front”, 1999), Clandestinu (“Clandestine”, 1997-1999), Armata Corsa (“Corsican Army”, 1999-2001) (10), Resistenza (“Resistance”, 1990-1996?) (11). In 1999, most splinter groups joined the FLNC habituel to form the FLNC-UC (“Union of combatants”) (12).
During the 1990s, a long string of feuds and killings amongst former and current FLNC members led to tens of deaths (13), although it is at times difficult to establish which were political homicides and which ones were tied to criminal cartels (14). A major example was the killing of Jean-Michel Rossi in 2000, one of the most notable former FLNC members and leader of the Armata Corsa splinter group. The timing of his assassination (which took place during a temporary FLNC ceasefire) has led some to believe it may have been carried out by either local drug dealing gangs, or French security services, or a combination of both (15). The death of François Santoni in 2001, another prominent Armata Corsa member, has led to similar speculation (16).
The FLNC-UC suffered a major blow when Charles Pieri, whom French security services considered the head of the group, was arrested and indicted for racketeering, which served to finance both militant activity and his own extravagant lifestyle (17). The FLNC-UC continued its armed campaign until 2014, when it announced a cessation of clandestine activity (18). Other splinter groups emerged in 2002, with the formation of the FLNC-October 22 (FLNC-22) (19), and in 2004, with the emergence of L’Armata di U Populu Corsu (“Army of the Corsican people”) (20). Some, though not all, of these splinter groups appropriated the FLNC brand for legitimacy reason, even if they are at times not directly connected to the original FLNC.
By the early 2000s, FLNC attacks had subsided somewhat, counting between 100 and 200 attacks or attempts per year (21). In 2015, the FLNC-22 declared it was starting to decommission arms (which is not equal to disarming) (22). The following year, the FLNC-22 threatened the Islamist terrorist group ISIS (Daesh), declaring that any Islamist activity in Corsica would be met with retaliation (23).
In 2019, a group which identified simply as FLNC emerged and announced propaganda actions in the future, while also releasing a political manifesto (24). In 2021, a new FLNC splinter group emerged, called FLNC Maghju 21 (“May 21”) (25) which announced its “tactical redeployment”, a thinly veiled locution which most likely indicates renewed armed struggle (26), while also denouncing “electoralism” (27).
A month later, in June 2021, the FLNC-UC and the FLNC-22 released a joint statement for the first time ever, in which they similarly denounced purely electoral politics while also reaffirming that they remain the only credible FLNC militant groups (28), thus implicitly delegitimizing the FLNC Maghju 21.
In 2022, the FLNC-22 released a statement prior to the visit of the French ministry of interior to the island, which took place in the context of the riots and demonstrations in support of Yvan Colonna. In the statement, other than hailing Yvan Colonna, they declared their support for the Corsican youth and their role in the protest (29). A few months later, the FLNC-22 released another statement claiming responsibility for 16 attacks, mostly against property but also including two against police vehicles (30).
Ideology & Objectives
The FLNC is rooted in a wider history of an anti-French sentiment in Corsica. Grievances in Corsica mainly stemmed from the economic backwardness of the island and the perceived inaction of the French government in countering the situation (31). In 1957, the French government created two agencies to develop Corsican agriculture and tourism, but by the end of the 1960s, most of the expansion in these sectors resulted from non-Corsican capital (32). At the same time, most agricultural land was acquired by the pied noirs (“black feet”) (33), ethnic French who emigrated from Algeria, which exacerbated the perception of colonial exploitation of the island while tens of thousands of Corsicans were forced to emigrate to find jobs (34).
On the 5th of May 1976, the newly-founded FLNC released its manifesto, which identified five key objectives (35):
→ The recognition of Corsican national rights.
→ The destruction of the instruments of French colonialism, i.e. armed forces, state apparatus, and settlers.
→ The establishment of Corsican national popular democratic sovereignty.
→ Land (Agrarian) reform.
Through its affiliated newspaper, U Ribombu (“The booming echo”), the FLNC has also repeatedly denounced capitalist and imperialist exploitation of Corsica (36), and it also declared its opposition to EEC/EU integration as a project driven by similar exploitative interests (37). The FLNC also criticized the Single European Act (which established the European Economic Community) as instrumental in accelerating Corsican economic, cultural and social decline (38). The FLNC’s hard euroscepticism has continued through the 1990s into the 2000s, in opposition to the majority of legal Corsican autonomist/nationalist parties (39).
Through U Ribombu, the FLNC also declared that "the chain which attaches Bastia and Ajaccio [in Corsica] to Paris is the same as that which attaches Hanoi or Algiers to the French capital" (40), therefore rooting its rhetoric in those of other anti-colonial movements in French colonies.
In 2019, a new manifesto was released during the press conference announcing the creation of a new FLNC splinter group.
In it, some specific political objectives were listed (41), including:
→ Asset forfeiture and expropriation for real estate owned by non-Corsicans, as well as a prohibiting them from purchasing and selling real estate.
→ ‘Corsicanisation’ of labour and of the Returnees’ Office (dedicated to the Corsican diaspora).
→ Tourism quotas and taxes.
→ Prohibition of further construction work for big business and fairer wages.
→ Nationalisation of transportation companies.
→ Mandatory teaching of the Corsican language in schools.
Additionally, the document included a critique of autonomist (i.e. non-separatist) Corsican parties, while also denouncing all leftwing and rightwing political parties which are regarded as compliant with the French (nationalist) and EU establishment (42). The document also specifies that the FLNC has always opposed both fascism and Islamism (43).
While this document has been produced autonomously by a FLNC splinter group, other FLNC-affiliated cells have not disputed nor criticised it. The specific economic and cultural demands of this document, is coherent with the anticapitalist localist politics of the original FLNC, and can thus be extended as fairly applicable to all FLNC groups.
The FLNC could therefore be fairly accurately described as a leftwing nationalist militant group.
Political & Military Abilities
The FLNC has conducted thousands of attacks during its long history, but only between 200 and 300 deaths have been recorded (44), which some attribute to the specific intention of avoiding civilian casualties to avoid losing support amongst the populace (45). The FLNC has also been able to operate in Corsica thanks to the traditional clan-like social structure typical of the island, which however has led some segments of the FLNC to get involved in activities more akin to organized crime than to revolutionary praxis (46). In 1983, a man was shot in Corte for refusing to pay the FLNC a “revolutionary tax” to fund the group’s activity (47). Some notable members of the FLNC, such as Charles Pieri and Alain Orsoni, were charged with racketeering and embezzlement.
In the past, the FLNC has been able to produce a number of publications, and it has also established ties with different political parties according to contingency and divisions inside the FLNC. It was also able to forge ties with legitimate businesses to launder “dirty” money and it has even set up some legal trade unions (48).
Regarding its violent activities, the FLNC has always been highly skilled in destroying and damaging property, but in its early years it was also able to conduct fast actions against military and police targets, such as in 1978, when FLNC operatives stormed a French military base in Solenzara, neutralizing French soldiers and planting explosives which destroyed high-tech radar equipment (49).
Other notable attacks include the 1983 killing of viceprefect Pierre-Jean Massimi (50), a 1990 attack, when 60 FLNC gunmen stormed a nudist camp and held beachgoers (mainly Germans) hostage as they blew up holiday homes (51); a 1999 bank robbery, which was carried out while police were busy defusing a car bomb (52), a 1999 bombing of a tax office in Paris despite tight security due the visit of Iran’s president (53).
The FLNC has always a high level of skill and tactical capacity in planning and coordinating attacks, often against multiple targets at the same time.
International Relations & Alliances
The FLNC and other Corsican independentist movements are known to have cordial relations with similar groups in Catalonia, Scotland, and the Basque country (54). In 1982, the FLNC even organized the “International Conference of national liberation organisations and movements” (55).
The FLNC also fought against anti-independence terrorist groups in Corsica, such as Action Corse Française (“French-Corsican Action”) and FRANCIA, which bombed and attacked autonomist newspapers and activities (56). These organisations have been linked to French security services and effectively served as a front for anti-separatist paramilitary and terrorist activity (57).
Works Cited (Need to be added)
(1) - Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. In: Duerr, G. (eds.). Secessionism and Terrorism - Bombs, Blood and Independence in Europe and Eurasia. Routledge, London, 2018. Pp. 95.
(2) - Ibidem.
(3) - Ibidem, pp. 92.
(4) - Ibidem.
(5) - Ibidem.
(6) - Ibidem.
(7) - Ibidem.
(8) - France24, Corsica protests turn to riots over assault of jailed nationalist Yvan Colonna. 10/03/2022. https://www.france24.com/en/europe/20220310-corsica-protests-turn-to-riots-over-assault-of-jailed-nationalist-yvan-colonna [Last accessed: 22/01/2023]
(9) - Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 97.
(10) - Ibidem.
(11) - Cfr. Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Corsicans in France, 2004, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/469f388a1d.html [Last accessed: 23/12/2023]
(12) - Ibidem.
(13) - Cfr. Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Corsicans in France, 2004, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/469f388a1d.html [Last accessed: 23/12/2023]
(14) - Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 96-97.
(15) - Cfr. Sertori, G. Il nazionalismo corso, dalle guerre fratricide alla soluzione politica. In: Etnie, 2017. https://www.rivistaetnie.com/nazionalismo-corso-storia-75940/ [Last accessed: 23/12/2023]
(16) - Ibidem
(17) - Cfr. Sánchez, W. A. Corsica: France's Petite Security Problem. In: Studies in Conflict & Terrorism, 31, 7, 2008. pp. 658.
(18) - Ibidem.
(19) - Ibidem.
(20) - Ibidem.
(21) - Cfr. Sánchez, W. A. Corsica: France's Petite Security Problem. Cit. 2008. pp. 656.
(22) - Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 97.
(23) - Ibidem, pp. 98.
(24) - Cfr. Meloni, A. In Corsica si forma un nuovo gruppo clandestino FLNC. In: CorsicaOggi, 1/10/2019 https://www.corsicaoggi.com/sito/si-forma-un-nuovo-gruppo-clandestino-flnc/ [last accessed: 23/01/2023]
(25) - Minotti, T. Il ritorno in campo dell’indipendentismo agita la Corsica. In: Osservatorio Globalizzazione, 18/05/2021 https://osservatorioglobalizzazione.it/osservatorio/indipendentismo-agita-la-corsica/ [Last accessed: 22/01/2023]
(26) - Ibidem.
(27) - Ibidem.
(28) - Padovani, G. FLNC : l'Union des combattants et le 22-octobre communiquent ensemble. In: Corse Matin, 02/06/2021 https://www.corsematin.com/articles/flnc-lunion-des-combattants-et-le-22-octobre-communiquent-ensemble-118062 [Last accessed: 23/01/2023]
(29) - CorsicaOggi, Il FLNC sostiene la gioventù in lotta e mette in guardia il governo. 17/03/2022. https://www.corsicaoggi.com/sito/il-flnc-sostiene-la-gioventu-in-lotta-e-mette-in-guardia-il-governo/ [last accessed: 22/01/2023]
(30) - Ortoli, P. P. Le FLNC revendique seize actions, dix jours avant la venue de Gérald Darmanin en Corse. In: Le Monde, 11/07/2022. https://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2022/07/11/le-flnc-revendique-seize-actions-dix-jours-avant-la-venue-de-gerald-darmanin-en-corse_6134386_3224.html [Last accessed 23/01/2023]
(31) - Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 93.
(32) - Ibidem
(33) - Ibidem, pp. 93-94.
(34) - Ibidem.
(35) - Cfr. FLNC. Dichiarazione Storica. 19/06/1979 In: Carmilla Online, Dichiarazione Storica 4/4. 25/07/2009 https://www.carmillaonline.com/2009/07/25/dichiarazione-storica-44/ [Last accessed: 23/01/2023]
(36) - Cfr. Elias, A. & Hepburn, E. Island Nations in a ‘Europe of the Peoples’: Corsica and Sardinia compared. In: 38th UACES Annual Conference, Edinburgh, 1st-3rd September 2008, 2008. pp. 18.
(37) - Ibidem.
(38) - Ibidem.
(39) - Ibidem, pp. 19-20.
(40) - Cfr. Elias. A. Minority nationalist parties and European integration : a comparative study. In: UACES contemporary European studies, Routledge, London - New York, 2009. pp. 116.
(41) - Cfr. CorsicaOggi, Il comunicato in nove punti del FLNC per “salvare il popolo corso da una scomparsa programmata”. 1/10/2019. https://www.corsicaoggi.com/sito/il-comunicato-in-nove-punti-del-flnc-per-salvare-il-popolo-corso-da-una-scomparsa-programmata/ [Last accessed: 23/01/2023]
(42) - Ibidem.
(43) - Ibidem.
(44) - Cfr. Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 96.
(45) - Ibidem
(46) - Cfr. Sánchez, W. A. Corsica: France's Petite Security Problem. Cit.
(47) - Cfr. Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 96.
(48) - Cfr. GlobalSecurity, Fronte di Liberazione Naziunale Corsu. https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/para/flnc.htm [Last Accessed 23/01/2023]
(49) - Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018. pp. 96.
(50) - Cfr. Lammert M. Der neue Terrorismus: Terrorismusbekämpfung in Frankreich in den 1980er Jahren. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg; 2017. pp. 134.
(51) - Minorities at Risk Project, Chronology for Corsicans in France, 2004, available at: https://www.refworld.org/docid/469f388a1d.html [Last accessed: 23/01/2023]
(52) - Ibidem.
(53) - Ibidem.
(54) - Cfr. Sánchez, W. A. Corsica: France's Petite Security Problem. Cit. 2008. pp. 656-657.
(55) - Cfr. Trentin, E. Il fronte di liberazione nazionale corso abbandona la lotta armata. In: Miglioverde, 18/12/2014. https://www.miglioverde.eu/il-fronte-di-liberazione-nazionale-corso-abbandona-la-lotta-armata/ [Last accessed: 23(01/2023]
(56) - Cfr. Anderson, L. Surviving the Jacobin state - Separatist terrorism with Brittany’s ARB and Corsica’s FLNC. Cit. 2018, pp. 95.
(57) - Cfr. Lammert M. Der neue Terrorismus: Terrorismusbekämpfung in Frankreich in den 1980er Jahren. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter Oldenbourg; 2017. pp. 16-17.