Leiden Safety and Security Blog

The Paris Attacks: Three questions

The Paris Attacks: Three questions © David Shane flickr.com/photos/david_shane/22622294969/

On Friday 13 November, a series of terrorist attacks in Paris killed more than one hundred people, making them the most lethal ones in Europe since the attacks in Madrid in 2004. The attacks were claimed by the terrorist organisation Islamic State (IS), which is also said to be responsible for the deadly suicide bombings in Beirut the day before and the bombing of the Russian plane in Egypt earlier this month. These attacks had a combined death toll of almost 300 people. Although it is too early to give definite answers, this article will try to point at some of the most important questions that are still unanswered.

Who are the perpetrators?
Immediately after the attacks, rumours emerged about the identities of the perpetrators. It was reported that a Syrian passport had been found next to one of the suicide bombers outside Stade de France. This immediately sparked fears about the scenario of “terrorists entering Europe with the refugee stream”. It is now thought that the passport is fake, belonging to a deceased soldier of the Syrian regime. Thus, carrying this passport could as well be a deliberate strategy of IS used to stir up the debate about the refugees with the hope of the EU closing its borders. We should not forget that it is Islamic State who is the fiercest opponent of refugees coming to Europe: it is a disgrace that Muslims are leaving the Caliphate to move to such a defiled place as the West, according to IS.

Another important question about the perpetrators is whether or not they have been fighting in Syria or Iraq with Islamic State. This would mean the long-feared scenario of returning Western foreign fighters wreaking havoc has now materialized. Another key discussion point is the background of the perpetrators. It seems to be the case that most of them have been born and raised in Belgium or France. Discussions about the radicalisation of certain Muslim communities, and the lack of trust between these communities and the police, especially in the French banlieues and certain Belgium neighbourhoods, is on the agenda again.

How did this happen?
Another crucial question is how this attack could have happened. The attack is much more sophisticated than the previous jihadist attacks in Paris, Brussels or Copenhagen. Still, the complexity should not be exaggerated. The nature of the “soft” targets" made them mostly unprotected ones. The only target with additional security in place – the football stadium – prevented the attackers from successfully executing their attack plan. Also, the most lethal weapons at their disposal were not the improvised suicide belts but the AK-47 rifles. The main question is thus not so much how this particular attack could have been staged, but more so how these particular perpetrators were able to do so. This will be particularly relevant if  some of the perpetrators are returned foreign fighters, which has been a prioritized security issue in the past year in many European countries. Also, the extent to which IS has been able to plan, prepare and partially execute a coordinated attack in Europe from Syria or Iraq will be of interest.

What will be the consequences?
Finally, perhaps the most important question is what the consequences of these attacks will be. These attacks will have a large impact on many levels, ranging from the international military coalition against Islamic State, to the local level of Muslim communities in European countries. France has already expanded its air strikes against IS, now bombing the self-proclaimed capital of IS in the city of Raqqa in Syria. Also, discussions about additional border checks in the European Union might even lead to a reconfiguration of the Schengen Agreements.

These are just three of the many questions that are currently being asked. The Leiden Safety and Security Blog will closely monitor the developments in the comings weeks.

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