We are not all Charlie

It seems that both IS and al-Qaeda have praised the attack on Charlie Hebdo. Though we do not know for sure if the attacker have some contacts with bigger terrorist networks, would you say jihadist groups could somehow use this attack for their propaganda, for recruiting? For us the message of the attack is “Je suis Charlie” and that the attack for also an attack on freedom of expression, but what is the message of the attack for the extremists? Read few comments.

Sam Mullins, Professor of Counterterrorism, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

Al-Qaeda has been encouraging autonomous acts of terrorism in the West for a long time now, and more recently ISIS has been doing the same. Jihadists around the world are not only praising the attacks but already using it to try and incite similar acts of violence and we can almost certainly expect tributes to the attackers in the next edition of Inspire and Dabiq. They have two main audiences that they want to influence here- the West in general, and their supporters. The message to the West is that people should be afraid and should not do anything to provoke attacks (despite the fact that they are trying to attack the West anyway). The message to their supporters is essentially do more of the same- if you cannot join us overseas, then do something at home. On a very basic level it also an act of revenge and an expression of their identity. In addition, they want to polarize society. They want conflict between Muslims and non-Muslims because it feeds their narrative of a war between Islam and the West. So the worst thing we can do as a society is to let that happen. Although we have seen some backlash against Muslims in Europe, I think for the most part we have seen encouraging expressions of solidarity between Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Benoît GomisAssociate Fellow, International Security, Chatham House

There is still a lot we do not know. After such shocking events, there is always an urge to speculate and draw conclusions from often unconfirmed information. ISIS and AQ have indeed praised the attacks – and will certainly continue to try and use it for propaganda/recruiting purposes. However, that does not necessarily mean that anyone within those organizations had any kind of logistical role. It is important to remember that these terrorist groups are also brands, labels that individuals use for “street cred” – i.e. to legitimize their actions, and cause more fear. With this in mind, the two perpetrators of the attacks at Charlie Hebdo were well equipped, with gear and various types of weapons. In itself, this shows that other people were involved in preparing the attack, at the very least by supplying the weapons.

The message of the two attackers seems to be revenge for making fun of Prophet Muhammad, for which Stéphane Charbonnier and his colleagues had been threatened and targeted in the past. But it would be wrong to characterize these two individuals as religious fundamentalists. They reportedly were not pious, drank alcohol, went to night clubs, smoked cannabis… Very often we tend to overplay the role of religion in terrorism, at the expense of the more important social factors. Those people were lost, angry, alienated, frustrated. We need to do a better and more nuanced job at analyzing the motivations and grievances of violent extremists, instead of simply blaming Islam.

Gabriel Weimann, Professor, Department of Communication, University of Haifa

Terrorists always used events (from Obama’s election as President to beheadings og Western journalist) for propaganda and recruitment. Attacks like the recent one in France are used to glorify the “warriors”, to show that they can attack anywhere, that they are alive and active. It certainly can be used as in the past to attempt to recruit Muslims from European countries, canalizing their frustration and alienation to revenge and radicalization.

There are several messages in such attack on journalists, directed to various target audiences.

To the press:  beware of blaspheming of our Prophet, we will retaliate. We set the limits to your freedom of expression

To their followers: we are devoted believers, ready to take revenge for any maltreatment of our faith, our values, our believers

To other terrorist groups: we are the true Jihadists, we are the active, courageous ones (bear in mind the completion now between ISIS and Al Qaeda).

Andrew Lebovich,  Washington-based researcher focused on security issues in the Sahel

Certainly jihadist groups have and will be able to use the attack for propaganda purposes. From their perspective, the attack demonstrates a goal to emulate in attacking institutions seen to have blasphemed against Islam. Additionally, violence committed against Muslims in retribution for these attacks would all extremist groups to argue, as they have in the past, that Western societies are anti-Islam and anti-Muslim, which is also a common refrain in jihadist propaganda.

Rodger Shanahan, Nonresident Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

We will learn more about the affiliation of the terrorists, however there is little doubt that their actions will feature in future media commentary from one or more groups. Their actions fit the Islamist narrative, so the people killed become secondary to the fact that an element of Western society was struck. This is all part of a general, rather than specific Islamist recruitment strategy.


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