Posts Tagged ‘Paris attack’

Still catching up after a busy week. This a short piece for the BBC on how vulnerable Europe is to attacks like that we saw last Friday. The point here is not to say it is impossible, but to try to keep things in perspective.

How vulnerable is Europe to Paris-style attacks?
By Raffaello Pantucci
Royal United Services Institute (Rusi)
18 November 2015
From the section Europe

French authorities_BBC

AP The French authorities have stepped up security following the deadly attacks in Paris
Paris attacks

The cancellation of the football match in Hannover on Tuesday night was the latest expression of a terrorist fear that currently wracks Europe.

Coming after a long month in which major attacks were seen in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, Beirut, Baghdad, Ankara and Paris, the febrile environment has generated an understandable level of concern among people in major cities across Europe.

Yet, the reality is that people face a greater daily danger from using their cars than they do from falling foul of terrorist plots in a European capital.

While the current environment is of heightened concern given attempts by Islamic State (IS) and its affiliates to massacre innocents, the reality is that plots on the scale of Paris are a rarity.
In response, European security agencies will step up their already highly vigilant posture and move to disrupt networks at increasingly earlier stages.

Outside the norm

Terrorism in European capitals is not unheard of.
London bomb_BBC Nov

AFP Four suicide bombers struck in central London on 7 July 2005, killing 52 people

Since the attacks of 11 September 2001 in Washington and New York, there have been large-scale atrocities in Madrid, London, Moscow, Oslo and now Paris.

Yet, these events are outside the usual norm.

In contrast, cities in Africa, parts of Asia and the Middle East face such attacks on a more regular basis.

Plots in the West are often disrupted – especially large-scale ones involving big networks of individuals.

While the 7 July 2005 bombers succeeded in killing 52 people in London, at least four or five other large-scale plots with links to al-Qaeda which aimed to strike the UK between 2004 and 2006 were disrupted by authorities.

‘Lone actors’
More recently, concerns had focused around the phenomenon of “lone actor” terrorism – acts undertaken by individuals who did not demonstrate any clear direction from a terrorist group or network.
Breivik_BBC_Nov

AP Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in two attacks in Norway, was a “lone actor”
Sometimes the individuals proved to be part of a known radical community, but in other cases they were unknowns who had driven themselves towards terrorist activity.

And yet, while numerous such cases were disrupted, only three people were able to murder fellow citizens – Pavlo Lapshyn stabbed Mohammed Saleem to death in Birmingham, while Michael Adebowale and Michael Adebolajo murdered Lee Rigby in Woolwich.

In most other cases, the individuals were only able to injure themselves in their attempted attacks.
Difficult to disrupt

IS had noticed this phenomenon and one of the major concerns of the past few months has been the ability of individuals in the group to inspire and instigate people in the West to launch such isolated attacks.

France had faced a number of these, including a spate of attempted murders around Christmas last year.

Paris post_BBC_Nov
AFP The French government has called the Paris attacks an act of war by a “terrorist army”

From the authorities’ perspectives, plots are inherently harder to disrupt, given the individuals’ lack of connections and links to known networks, meaning intelligence tripwires were harder to identify.
Yet at the same time, these plots also tend to be less menacing in their ability to cause mass murder.
Anders Behring Breivik was an exception to this, but he remains unique in his attacks in Norway in 2011 that left 77 people dead.
In most cases, the individuals are only able to attempt to murder one or two in their immediate periphery.

Shifting focus
Clearly, recent events in continental Europe show that the current threat picture there is more heightened than this, but plots on the scale of the slaughter in Paris remain a rarity.

While IS is clearly a terrorist organisation that has shifted its attention from state building in its core in the sands of the Levant to causing mass murder globally, the degree to which the group is able to get such large-scale plots through European security nets remains unclear.
ISIS_BBC_Nov

Manbar.me Islamic State has warned European countries that they will be unable to stop further attacks
In the wake of the atrocities in Paris, it will become even harder for the group as authorities move to disrupt plots earlier rather than let something like this reoccur.
At the same time, the current threat picture is complicated – with hundreds of Europeans and others fighting alongside IS having absorbed the groups ideology.
It is unclear how many more plotters will need to be stopped and for how long Europe will face this menace.
Raffaello Pantucci is Director of International Security Studies at Rusi in London. His research focuses on counter-terrorism and he is the author of We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain’s Suburban Terrorists. Follow him @raffpantucci

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It has been rather busy of late, so a bit behind on posting. First up, I wrote a longer piece in the Independent on Sunday at the weekend on the atrocity last Friday in Paris.

parisemergency

Paris terror attacks: The lessons of Mumbai were learned – by the jihadis
For Isis to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda it must create greater misery

In November 2008, a new form of terrorism filled our television screens as a 10-man cell dispatched by Pakistan-based terror group Lashkar-e-Taiba wreaked murder and mayhem across Mumbai. Choosing prominent targets filled with foreigners and Indians, the terrorists opened fire on anyone they came across, butchering 266 before dying fighting the authorities.

In so doing, they took over global headlines for days as well as bringing one of Asia’s super-cities to a standstill. Terrorist groups around the world celebrated this horror and began to discuss how they might try to emulate this success. Seven years later in Paris, the playbook has been copied.

This has been the longstanding fear of Western security agencies. Aware of the perceived success of the Mumbai attack, police and intelligence services across Europe have been ramping up their preparedness and training. Most recently, in June, the UK’s emergency and intelligence agencies did a dry run for a marauding shooter attack in London. And there have been scares. In 2010, a network of European cells that seemed to indicate al-Qaeda was attempting a Mumbai-style assault, with training camps in Pakistan’s badlands, was apparently disrupted.

Then earlier this year, Paris was racked by the Charlie Hebdo murders. But whereas those attacks, initially at least, were selective in their targets, Friday’s were utterly indiscriminate. The bombers at the stadium must have known the French President was in the environs, though they blew themselves up outside, killing whoever happened to be nearby. The other cell liberally targeted Parisians on a Friday night out. This is a markedly different form of horror and one that requires deep indoctrination, preparation and training. It is also a step up in terms of atrocity from what we had seen before in Europe. Mumbai-style terrorism has reached European shores.

At least one of the attackers has been uncovered as having some French background. While unsurprising given the threat picture that we have seen, this is particularly disturbing within the context of the sort of attack they undertook. To brutally shoot and execute fellow nationals pleading for their lives is something which would have required intense commitment. This training may have occurred in Syria, but in many ways this no longer matters. Islamic State (Isis) has shown an interest in stirring chaos and misery around the world with little apparent concern for its strategic impact.

Unlike the Madrid bombings, which had the effect of prying apart the coalition in Iraq, the attacks that Isis has inspired, instigated or directed, have been aimed at killing as many as possible in “enemy” countries and stirring tensions in societies. France in particular has been at the epicentre of this threat. In May 2014, Frenchman Mehdi Nemmouche opened fire at a Jewish Museum in Brussels killing three. He was later reported to have fought alongside Isis. In August this year, another young man with links to France, Ayoub el Khazzani, was barely prevented from shooting at passengers on a high-speed train from Amsterdam to Paris.

His background remains unclear, but he was linked to a network in Turkey that was linked to Isis and connected to Sid Ahmed Ghlam, a 24-year-old Algerian French resident who was reportedly plotting to attack churches in Paris. He was detained after he called an ambulance to his home having shot himself accidentally in the leg. He was already of concern to French security services.

And none of this is to talk about the numerous plots that French authorities have faced where individuals have launched attacks in advance of jihadist ideologies with no clear evidence of any sort of network. Around Christmas last year there was a spate of random attacks using knives or cars, and in June, Yassin Salhi decapitated his boss and tried to drive a car bomb into a chemical factory in Lyon. He strung up his boss’s head on a fence, took pictures of it with an Islamist flag and sent them to a fighter he knew in Syria.

This, sadly, is the nature of the current threat. And while obtaining the high-powered rifles required to cause such mass slaughter is much harder in the UK, it could strike here. Each wave of terrorism has to cause greater mayhem to have the same impact over time, and consequently for Isis to distinguish itself from al-Qaeda, it must create greater impact and misery.

While the UK can draw comfort from the fact weapons are harder to get here, British people abroad have fallen foul of these plots. The massacre in Sousse particularly affected British nationals, and at least one Briton was caught up in Friday’s Paris attacks. Terrorism has to continually evolve and cause greater brutality to maintain impact and attract attention. And while France is currently the epicentre, the ideology and groups are ones that are keen to equally target the UK

Raffaello Pantucci is director of  international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute