Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Paris 13/11 - An Analysis

This post looks into the possible lapses in intelligence, post-attack investigation and measures that may be taken to prevent another 13/11.

Investigation into Friday the 13th massacre made considerable headway with the names and identities of some of the suspects who took part in the attack was disclosed by the security agencies. Few of the suspects were either French or Belgian nationals and who appeared to have some kind of criminal antecedents.

The Suspects with connections to France/Belgium

Bilal Hadfi, a Belgian resident aged about 19 or 20 went under the names "Abu Moudjahid Al-Belgiki" and "Bilal Al Mouhajir," has been identified as one of the three suicide bombers who struck outside the Stade de France. 

Samy Amimour, a French national, aged about 28 years was born in Drancy, a north-eastern suburb of Paris was one of the suicide bombers who blew himself up at the Bataclan Concert Hall.

Ismael Omar Mostefai, aged 29 years, was a resident of Chartres, France who blew himself up at the Bataclan Concert Hall. "He was considered a radicalized person and had a security report," Paris prosecutor François Molins said. A Turkish official told the Guardian that French authorities were tipped off twice about Mostefai by Turkey, but only received an information request about him after the Paris attacks.

Ibrahim Abdeslam was a 31 year old suicide bomber who blew himself at the Comptoir Voltaire cafe on Boulevard Voltaire.

Saleh Abdelam aged 26, a Belgian-born French national and brother of Ibrahim  who escaped from the scene of the attacks. He is suspected to have rented a car used by the group.

Intelligence Lapses?  And The Molenbeek Angle

According to the Associated Press, Iraqi intelligence sent a dispatch saying the group's leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, had ordered an attack on coalition countries fighting against them in Iraq and Syria, as well as on Iran and Russia, through bombings or other attacks in the days ahead. 

The dispatch said the Iraqis had no specific details on when or where the attack would take place, and a senior French security official told the AP that French intelligence gets this kind of communication "all the time" and "every day." 

Without commenting specifically on the Iraqi warning, a senior U.S. intelligence official said he was not aware of any threat information sent to Western governments that was specific enough to have thwarted the Paris attacks. Officials from the US, French and other Western governments have expressed worries for months about Islamic State-inspired attacks by militants who fought in Syria, the official noted. In recent weeks, the sense of danger had spiked. 

According to the Iraqis the Paris attacks appear to have been planned in Raqqa, Syria — the Islamic State's de-facto capital — where the attackers were trained specifically for this operation and with the intention of sending them to France. The Iraqi officials also said a sleeper cell in France then met with the attackers after their training and helped them to execute the plan.There were 24 people involved in the operation, they said: 19 attackers and five others in charge of logistics and planning. It appears that though the timing of the attacks may not have been known, the fact that an attack on Paris was imminent was known to the French. While it may be unfair to accuse the French intelligence of lapses, the security agencies could have increased surveillance of known terror suspects both in France and Belgium.

In the previous post a reference was made to Belgium because certain parts of Belgium had become a safe haven for jihadis owing allegiance to the Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.

Molenbeek, an impoverished suburb of Brussels  for instance has a large, predominantly Muslim population of first-, second- and third-generation immigrants from North Africa that has gained an unwelcome reputation as a hotbed of jihadism.

In January 2015, police raided a suspected IS terror cell in Verviers in Eastern Belgium and killed two suspects who were alleged to be on the brink of a major Paris-style attack. The cell members, including the man alleged to be orchestrating the plot from abroad, Belgian-Moroccan Abelhamid Abaaoud, belonged to the Molenbeek suburb. Incidentally, it is now being reported by The Independent that Abelhamid Abaaoud was the mastermind of the Paris attacks. The train gunman, Ayoub El Khazzani, 25, a Moroccan national who opened fire on a train from Paris to Amsterdam in August 2015 is also said to have spent time in Molenbeek prior to the attack.

The suspected master mind of the Paris attacks, Abaaoud, who authorities suspect orchestrated the Verviers plot from Greece, is believed to have joined ISIS in Syria in early 2014, according to CNN. At some point, his 13-year-old brother joined him there, becoming the youngest Belgian jihadist in Syria.

After the Verviers plot was foiled, Abaaoud evaded European authorities' efforts to apprehend him. He later was featured in an ISIS propaganda magazine, claiming to have returned to Syria.

The information about known suspects were available with Western intelligence agencies, but for reasons best known they were not collated properly. Like in the case of Mumbai, the security agencies failed to connect the dots and preempt the attacks.

Hitting back
There cannot be a hasty, haphazard response to the carnage. What is needed is a cool, calculated and ruthless retaliation which will ultimately deter potential terrorists from executing a similar strike on any city in the West. Most of the foot soldiers save and except one Saleh Abdelam are dead. The planners and those who provided logistical support are the ones who need to be neutralised. Firstly, it would be expected that French intelligence, both the DGSE and DGSI would activate their network of agents around Europe and beyond in order to track the organisers of the attacks. Secondly, friendly states and coalition partners of France would be providing inputs in order to help France and other states in preventing a repeat of 13/11. France must be willing to use its Special Forces both within France and beyond to eliminate terrorists, their sympathisers and financiers much like the Israeli special operation teams which liquidated members of the Black September Organisation. Given the chaotic situation in Syria, with requisite intelligence and logistical support, it would be viable to send Special Forces to carry out targetted killing of the leadership of the IS. The effectiveness of air strikes which are being carried out at present is extremely doubtful.

Secondly, France and the rest of the EU members must shut its doors on migrants who enter Europe under the guise of refugees. Given the nature of the prevailing political climate and the limited resources at its disposal, none of the members of the EU, barring Germany has the capability of monitoring potential risks posed by the so-called refugees to Europe's security. Human rights' activists and civil liberty groups may protest against such a policy, nevertheless, today with the very idea of Europe and its cherished values being under attack from a group like the IS, barbed-wire border controls are necessary.

Thirdly, France and other EU members must in concert strip all those individuals, who have travelled to Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Afghanistan to fight along side terror groups like the IS, Al Qaeda, Al-Shabaab, Taliban or other Islamist groups of citizenship. The families of these terrorists must also be deported to their country of origin. 


French intelligence may not have had specific intelligence about the scale or nature of the attacks. However, the authorities were aware that an attack was likely especially attacks by lone wolves like Chérif Kouachi and Said Kouachi (Charlie Hebdo shootings), Amedy Coulibaly (Fontenay-aux-Roses, Porte de Vincennes) and Ayoub El Khazzani (train gunman) had taken place. At the same time, the terrorists failed in their plans to storm the Stade de France. Had they succeeded, the scale of the massacre would have been much greater. The French police and SWAT teams did well in rescuing hostages from the Bataclan Concert Hall. 
All said and done neither France nor its European Union partners have the means and resources or requisite laws to enable it to take wide-sweeping preventive measures - often based on sketchy intelligence - that  probably the US can.

And fail-safe operational monitoring of the sheer number of potential threats on European soil, in the form of sympathisers with groups like ISIS, many of whom have actually travelled to Syria and spent time with the group, is extremely difficult for any security service.

[At the time of writing, it has been reported that French police have continued their hunt for Salah Abdeslam believed to be one of the three brothers involved in Friday night’s attack, who is on the run – and others thought to have been involved in orchestrating the attacks on Paris on Friday.

Overnight raids have taken place in Toulouse, Grenoble, Jeumont (on the French-Belgian border), and the Paris suburb of Bobigny. The raids were carried out under the national state of emergency declared by the president, François Hollande. At least one, in Bobigny, is reported to be directly linked to the Paris attacks.

Several arrests have been reported across those locations, with buildings searched. Weapons were reportedly seized in Toulouse].

No comments: