Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The #ParisAttacks in Context

From Robin Simcox, at Foreign Affairs, "France's Perpetual Battle Against Terrorism":
ISIS spoke of France back in September 2014, when group spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani proclaimed to his listeners that “if you can kill an American or European infidel, especially the spiteful and cursed French, kill them in any way possible.” The response to this call was rapid: in December 2014, Bertrand Nzohabonayo attacked three police officers with a knife in Joué-lès-Tours and was shot and killed. Nzohabonayo had uploaded an ISIS flag to his Facebook account shortly before.

Weeks later, Said and Cherif Kouachi, two brothers who had been trained by al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in Yemen, murdered 12 staff members during an attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine’s headquarters in Paris. These particular strikes were not explicitly linked to ISIS, but the next ones were. Over a two-day period in January 2015, Amedy Coulibaly, one of Cherif Kouachi’s associates, killed five people in Paris. He had pledged loyalty to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

More was to follow. In April 2015, Sid Ahmed Ghlam allegedly planned to kill Parisian churchgoers and is suspected of having murdered a gym instructor during an attempt to steal her car. Ghlam’s plans were thwarted only when he accidentally shot himself in the leg and was forced to call an ambulance. Three months later, a heavily armed Ayoub el-Khazzani attacked a train heading to Paris from Amsterdam, only to be restrained by passengers and arrested. Both Ghlam and el-Khazzani are linked to the Belgian jihadist and Paris attacks mastermind Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a key figure in terror networks with ties to ISIS in Syria. Abaaoud was also linked to the ISIS cell operating in Verviers, Belgium, that was disrupted in January 2015.


None of these cases were detected by French police before they began to unfold. Granted, other plots have been thwarted—such as an attack on a military base in the south of France—but in reality, other disastrous attacks were averted only through good luck and heroic citizens. France's domestic security agency, the Direction Générale de la Sécurité Intérieure, was formed in May 2014, replacing the Direction Centrale du Renseignement Intérieur. According to the France 24 journalist Leela Jacinto, the idea was to “beef up, enlarge, and provide more funds” to the DGSI in order to—as one French official put it—turn it into a “war machine” capable of staving off the terror threat. This task has had an inauspicious start.

The state of French security is problematic enough, but equally troubling is the fact that ISIS is now pulling off complex, coordinated plots that were previously perceived as too difficult for the group to execute...
Still more.