Paris attacks: We fight ISIS but what comes next?

On November 13,  2015 terrorists linked to Islamic State killed 130 people in Paris.

Questions:

1. It is one year after the ISIS attack in Paris. Does Paris change anything regarding our counterrorism efforts? Are we better prepared to fight terrorists plots?

2. We are relatively successful in fighting ISIS in Iraq in Syria. Does it matter?

Answers:

Jean-Marc Rickli, Assistant Professor, Department of Defence Studies, King’s College London

1. Yes and no. Yes because the Paris attacks have forced the European to take what happens in Syria and Iraq seriously. This is a contributing factor for the current attacks on Daesh in both Mossoul and Raqqa. Yes, also because it has forced the Europeans to improve their collaboration in terms of intelligence sharing, judicial cooperation or border monitoring. No, because European states still remain very sovereign when it comes to intelligence sharing, judicial cooperation and border monitoring. Some measures were taken but full cooperation is not yet on the horizon. No also, because by targeting Daesh on its homeland, Syria and Iraq, Daesh will aim for softer targets in Europe and Asia (Bruxelles, Bangladesh). Moreover, the jihadist movement has been split even more and metastases even more. It also inspire people who never travelled to Syria or Iraq (e.g. Nice attacks). On the whole, the dynamics of Daesh has changed (from building a caliphate over Syria and Iraq) to a movement that will be split and metastases abroad.

2. I would say that it does when it comes to downgrading Daesh capabilities (military, financial). Daesh recruitment efforts based on the idea of describing the Sham as the paradise for Muslim that attracted many Europeans originally is gone. As a matter of fact, Daesh’s spokesman, Adnani (who was killed last August) even called for Europeans to no longer go to Syria and Iraq and instead act locally in their homeland. So, this dynamic is definitely gone. Yet, even if Daesh is destroyed, the ideology and some jihadists are still out there and therefore the problem is far from being solved. If Daesh collapses it is very likely that a new organization will replace it.

Mathieu GuidèreProfessor, University of France

1. The terrorist attacks of November 2015 changed a lot of things: new laws, more security and law enforcement, more resources, more military efforts, hundreds of arrests, more attention from the public, better securing of buildings and events, etc. France has changed its security software and is now better prepared to fight terrorist plots.

2. We are destroying the center of the organization and weakening its command but this has also as a consequence to spread the fighters and the threat in other parts of the world. Politically it matters but strategically it is not sure the problem will be solved because we still offer no solution to the Sunni people of Iraq and Syria.

Kacper Rękawek, Head of Defence and Security Programme, GLOBSEC Policy Institute

1. We are if these will be the same as the last ones – we learn the lessons of the past and hope the best for the future. So far, it has served us relatively well but we always need to try and be a step ahead of the attack planners. Intelligence is key here but also their propaganda in which they often tell us who and how they might be attacking. Of course, they don’t say exactly when.

2. Of course, degrading ISIS in terms of territory undermines their legitimacy but the genie is out of bottle – we will now suffer because of the activities of another generation of jihad, much larger than the previous ones – Afghanistan, Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq 2003 related. There will still be a lot of people hell-bent on targeting the broader West, even if ISIS falls. We need to start asking ourselves – what comes next? Will AQ return or what will replace ISIS?

Edwin BakkerProfessor, Director Centre for Terrorism & Counter-Terrorism, Leiden University

1. More international cooperation, investment in community engagement in France and Belgium, more efforts and better equipment to do super fast forensic research (DNA, phone data, et). I believe it made CT stronger, especially in FRA en BEL, but also for Europe as a whole

2. There is a paradox: at the short term it may lead to more attacks: calls from al Baghdadi to strike Turkey. Morover, going to join IS has become very difficult. Some might try to do ‘something’ at home. So in the short term it will not make us safer. In the long term it is good if IS would not have a power base in Syria and Iraq. Moreover, its appeal will be damaged if they will be quickly defeated … but that remains to be seen.

Nathaniel Barr, Research Manager, Valens Global

1. I think European intelligence and security agencies have become better prepared and equipped to confront the jihadist threat following the Paris and Brussels attacks. Until Paris, the prevailing paradigm was that IS was not interested in carrying out attacks in Europe. Paris shifted the paradigm and prompted a signifanct shift in resources towards domestic CT. That being said, there are still considerable gaps and challenges, some of which relate to poor intelligence gathering concerning the influx of refugees and migrants who have traveled to Europe on the last two years.

2. The fight against IS in Syria and Iraq is undoubtedly important and significant, but we are far from the point of success. Driving IS from its territorial stronghold will inhibit the group’s local expansion efforts, curb its recruitment, and impede-to an extent-its external operations. But IS will adapt to the current environment, and will remain relevant in the middle term. Moreover, even as we make gains against IS, we’ve done little to curb AQ’s global activities.

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

Since the attacks in Paris last year, certainly some progress has been made. Numerous European countries have strengthened their counter-terrorism capabilities to varying degrees and there is renewed political will and commitment to sharing of information between agencies and across borders. Many ISIS operatives have also been captured or killed, both in Europe and the Middle East (most notably Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who served as chief of ISIS’s external operations) and the group is losing territory in Syria and Iraq on a daily basis. So ISIS is considerably worse off than a year ago and that makes it more difficult for them to plan and launch attacks. That said, there are certainly no grounds for complacency. The sheer scale of the threat today is placing counter-terrorism agencies under tremendous strain and it is simply impossible to monitor hundreds of suspects around the clock. As the physical “Caliphate” is destroyed it is likely that more foreign fighters will attempt to flee and in some cases come to Europe. There will also be added motivation among violent jihadists to conduct attacks in the West in order to get revenge. At the same time, wide-spread use of encryption makes it far more difficult to intercept and monitor terrorists’ communications, while continued refugee flows may obscure their travel (although it is worth emphasizing that the vast majority of refugees are genuine). Finally, terrorists have repeatedly shown that they can readily obtain automatic weapons. The bottom line is that although our security services are doing a fantastic job, more attacks are inevitable. The vast majority of attacks will be small-scale, while mass-casualty events like in Paris will remain relatively rare. Nevertheless, the continued occurrence of even smaller attacks appears to be taking a toll on Western society that plays into the terrorists’ strategy to provoke and polarize society and ultimately mobilize more supporters. So while much has been achieved since the attacks in Paris and ISIS is now clearly on a downward trajectory for now, violent jihadist terrorism will remain a significant challenge for many years to come.

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