Paris: Another murderous milestone
BEIRUT - The slaughter in Paris by three teams of gunmen and suicide bombers, all apparently connected to the Islamic State (ISIS), is another murderous milestone in the jihadist group’s apocalyptic rise that began two years ago and most likely signals its emergence as a global threat.
French President François Hollande called the coordinated attacks by terrorists on six locations, in which at least 129 people died and hundreds more were wounded, “an act of war”. He also declared a state of emergency, put 1,500 troops on the streets of Paris and vowed to intensify France’s military operations against ISIS as part of a US-led coalition.
“We’re going to lead a war without mercy,” declared Hollande after visiting the shattered Le Bataclan, a 1,500-seat concert hall. That was where most of the victims were killed by three gunmen, armed with assault rifles, who mowed down audience members at a rock concert before detonating suicide bombs when police counter-attacked.
The violence of November 13th was highly coordinated and was the work of trained operatives rather than self-starting “lone wolf” terrorists who have carried out several attacks in France in recent months. Intelligence experts said the suicide vests worn by the attackers, the first used in France, were made by a highly skilled professional who learned bomb-making in Syria and is probably still at large.
The sophisticated choreography of the Paris slaughter drew parallels with the precision of the November 26, 2008, attack on Mumbai, India’s commercial capital, by ten Islamists of Pakistan’s Lashkar-e-Taiba group. They killed 171 people and wounded 240 over three days before they were killed or captured.
It wouldn’t be the first time that there’s been operational cross-fertilisation between terrorist groups.
The Paris attacks, including the suicide bombing near the Stade de France where Hollande was watching a football match between France and Germany, were the deadliest on French soil since 1945, and appear to be part of an ISIS plan to expand its operations, so far largely confined to the Middle East, on an international scale.
This campaign was apparently launched with the reported bombing of a Russian airliner over Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on October 31st that killed all 224 people aboard. It continued with suicide bombings in Beirut on November 12th, with 43 killed and 239 wounded. Both operations were claimed by ISIS.
Turkey has also pointed the finger at ISIS for the bombing of a rally in Ankara on October 10th that killed 102 people. All these attacks were linked to the Syrian conflict.
With the Paris casualties, the body count from ISIS attacks outside Syria and Iraq over the last five weeks totals more than 450 people killed and nearly 1,000 wounded.
There is every likelihood that ISIS will unleash further attacks in both the Middle East and the wider world. These will most probably be directed particularly at countries involved in the US-led military coalition fighting ISIS in Syria and Iraq and, of course, Russia because of its armed intervention to rescue the embattled regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad.
France, which began air strikes against ISIS in September, has borne the brunt of recent terrorist assaults in Europe. Even before the November 13th attacks, Hollande had said he was sending France’s only aircraft carrier, the nuclear-powered Charles de Gaulle, to the Arabian Gulf to boost coalition air power — a move that could trigger further ISIS retaliation.
All this bloodshed, apparently triggered by Russia’s air strikes against ISIS and other foes of Assad that began September 30th, has given greater impetus to the diplomatic efforts to secure a negotiated settlement to end a war heading towards its sixth year with an estimated 250,000 dead and around half of Syria’s 23 million population driven from their homes.
This includes a flood of refugees threatening to swamp Europe, which has triggered a swelling political crisis. Governments also fear ISIS and other terrorists will ride this tidal wave of homeless humanity to infiltrate the region. French investigators suspect at least one of the November 13th attackers entered Europe through Greece in October posing as a refugee.
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said November 14th that the carnage in Paris has given new meaning to the meeting in Vienna to halt the Syrian slaughter.
“The countries sitting around the table have almost all experienced the same pain, the same terror, the same shock over the last weeks,” she said. “This tells us very clearly we’re all together in this. Europeans, Arabs, East and West, we’re all affected by terrorism and those that try and divide us.”
But the Paris attacks could also intensify anti-Muslim anger across Western Europe. France’s far-right National Front was quick to call for tough action against Muslims and tighter immigration controls amid the surge of millions of homeless Middle Easterners fleeing conflicts across the region.
Such actions could alienate Europe’s Muslim, particularly discontented young men and make them easy prey for recruitment by ISIS and other jihadist groups.