Paris attacks: What does it mean in the context of fighting ISIS?

Paris attacks are the essence of terrorism, it is not only about people being killed it is about creating a political effect, says Peter Neumann, Director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation. Would you agree with such description of Paris terrorist attacks and why? And whoever was it, what should be the reaction on those attacks in your opinion? Read few comments.

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

The desire to provoke a political reaction of some kind is a fundamental aspect of terrorism, with the immediate victims of an attack being targeted in order to send a message to a broader audience. It is also important to bear in mind the strategic goals of conducting attacks. Terrorists want to provoke an over-reaction and polarize society. In that way their “us versus them” narrative is reinforced and they hope to gain additional sympathizers and recruits. The attacks in Paris certainly have all the hallmarks of a terrorist attack, likely intended to exact revenge for some perceived grievance/s and further strategic objectives. Whatever the reaction, a balance needs to be struck between demonstrating resolve while deterring and preventing similar attacks on the one hand, and avoiding overreaction and the polarization of society on the other. So the response must be carefully targeted in a way that avoids alienating any segment of society, which would play into the terrorists’ strategy. A key part of that is not just what kinds of security measures are implemented, but what sort of media strategy is employed. One potential “silver lining” to such a tragic incident is that terrorists are sometimes (strategic) victims of their own (tactical) success, i.e. when the violence and killing are particularly excessive, society (and the broader international community) unites against them rather than becoming polarized. Think of the Luxor massacre in Egypt in 1997; the Omagh bombing in Northern Ireland in 1998; the Mumbai attacks in India in 2008; and the recent attacks in Tunisia. Tactically, the attacks in Paris have succeeded. Strategically, they may have been a step too far. Either way, I expect Iife will get a lot more difficult for terrorists in France and elsewhere.

If it was indeed ISIS and directed from overseas as Hollande has said, this would be the first large-scale, ISIS-directed attack in a Western country. Up until now, the majority of ISIS “linked” plots and attacks appear to have been inspired by them but not directly supported or directed. So although they have been making consistent threats against the West, in particular since September 2014, there has been little real evidence to suggest they have actually invested much effort in attacks outside of their own territory- preferring instead to outsource to sympathizers and affiliates. So in that sense this is pretty significant. Having said that, it can also be read as a sign that the airstrikes against them in Syria and Iraq are working. They clearly want revenge, but they also want the strikes to stop and it wouldn’t surprise me if this is an attempt to make that happen. I saw that already a bystander to the attacks was quoted blaming Hollande’s policy against ISIS, and there may well be added pressure to call off military action against terrorists overseas. This would be a mistake though, since a key element in any terrorist organization’s strength is its ability to hold territory. I expect the international community as a whole understands this and is likely to intensify their efforts in the Middle East as well as at home. Again, this may well have been a strategic blunder by ISIS that only hastens their demise. We shall see what happens.

Ahmed Salah Hashim, Associate Professor of Strategic Studies, Deputy Coordinator in the Military Studies Programme, The S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University

Yes, the barbarians are at it again. I am thinking of writing a piece called Between The City of Light and the City of Darkness: Paris and Raqqa in Juxtaposition.

I am actually encouraged to write a piece on urban terrorism right now. This is more than about people being killed. they want to kill; this is not about negotiations. The direct perpetrators had no demands, they did not have an exit strategy. This was their response to the French involvement in Syria and Iraq; they hope that the French would draw the “right” lesson and withdraw. I hope France does not, because even in spite of this concrete notion of tit for tat, their ideology would still drive them to do what they did. Also to take into consideration is that we are witnessing the further evolution of urban terrorism from simple mass casualty attacks focused on one target — Nairobi, Dar es Salaam in 1998, Madrid and London in the early 2000s and carried out by individual suicide or vehicle bombs to more complex ones that can focus on one target — Nairobi Westgate which was a small unit assault — to a complex multiple simultaneous set of attacks as in Mumbai which involved small unit assaults by individuals that been trained for 12-18 months in a Pakistani village outside Muzzafferabad in the north to the two attacks in Paris the March Hebdo attack which still pales in comparison with this most complex multiple attacks, presumably by people who have been trained and who had a logistical foundation to pull this off.

James M. DorseySenior Fellow, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University

Political violence is always about political effect rather killing for the sake of killing. My guess is that no act of political violence since 9/11 but what happened in Paris will prove‎ to have had as much of a political effect. Both acts were designed to create the kind of shop to polarize communities, exacerbate social tensions and drive an already marginalized community further into the margins to the benefit of militants and radicals. They can count on governments doing their part by focussing exclusively on short term, knee-jerk security response rather than embedding security policies in political, economic and social measures that tackle root causes.

Rodger ShanahanNonresident Fellow, Lowy Institute for International Policy

The strategic intent was twofold & should take into account bombings in Baghdad & Beirut. First it was designed to take IS’s recent reversals in Syria & Iraq off the front pages & replace it with a demonstration of their capability. Second it was, along with the other bombings to reinforce to its enemies that their is a cost to pay for striking at IS.

The response should be to continue targeting of IS & other Islamists in Iraq & Syria & exploiting intelligence gathered as a result of this attacks to target domestic groups. IS is hurting in Iraq & Syria & the screws should be tightened further.

 

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