About seven years ago, ten Pakistan’s ISI-sponsored terrorists belonging to the Hafeez Saeed-led Lashar-e-Taiba attacked India’s financial capital Mumbai and caused mayhem leaving about 170 dead and scores injured. The attacks which were coordinated and targeted multiple locations lasted for about 60 hours. It came to be known as Mumbai 26/11. On Friday 13th November 2015 about eight member fedayeen squad belonging to the Islamic State or ISIS in a manner similar to the November 2008 Mumbai attacks carried out suicide attacks at six sites in the French capital Paris, including a concert hall (where the casualties were reported to be in excess of 80 dead and several injured) and a sports stadium where a soccer match was in progress between the national teams of France and Germany. Paris became a battle zone briefly; this was indeed Paris 13/11.
The targets were not random, but carefully chosen by the terrorists. The targets were places where large number of people congregated for the purpose of entertainment, leisure or sports. They targeted young people enjoying a rock concert and ordinary city residents enjoying a Friday night out. In Mumbai too, while the iconic Taj and high-end hotels were targeted, terrorists also struck a South Mumbai Café and the CST Railway Station and attempted to kill patients in a hospital.
Beginning at 21.16 Central European Time (CET) three separate explosions and six mass shootings occurred, including bombings near the Stade de France in the northern suburb of Saint-Denis. The deadliest attack was at the Bataclan Theatre, among the best-known venues in eastern Paris, near the trendy Oberkampf area known for a vibrant nightlife, on Boulevard Voltaire in the 11th arrondissement where the California-based American rock band Eagles of Death Metal were playing to an audience of around 1,500. About an hour into the concert, four black-clad men with AK-47 assault rifles entered the hall. Witnesses heard shouts of “Allahu Akbar” just before the gunmen calmly and methodically opened fire into the crowd. A witness said that he saw armed men enter the Bataclan, and two or three men not wearing masks fired indiscriminately on the crowd. The attackers also took hostages and engaged in a standoff with police until it was ended at 00.58 CET into the early hours of 14 November 2015. The attack lasted about 20 minutes, with witnesses reporting that the attackers also threw grenades into the crowd.
The first attacks occurred on the Rue Bichat and Rue Alibert, near the Canal Saint-Martin in the 10th arrondissement of Paris. Attackers shot at people outside Le Carillon, a café-bar, in the same general neighborhood as the Charlie Hebdo offices, at approximately 21.20 CET. They then crossed Rue Bichat and attacked Le Petit Cambodge (Little Cambodia), a restaurant, leaving between four and eleven people dead. According to the French police, 11 people were killed at the restaurant. The assailants reportedly fled in one or two vehicles after the shootings. One of the vehicles was known to have had a Belgian number plate. Shots were fired at the terrace of La Casa Nostra, an Italian restaurant, in Rue de la Fontaine-au-Roi south of Rue Bichat, by a man wielding a machine gun.
Three explosions occurred near the Stade de France in the suburb of Saint-Denis, and resulted in at least five deaths. At least 10 people were injured or killed in an explosion at a bar near the stadium at approximately 21.30 CET, about twenty minutes after the kick-off in an international friendly soccer match between France and Germany which the President of France Francois Hollande was attending.
Two attackers fired for several minutes at the terrace of La Belle Équipe, a restaurant on the rue de Charonne in the 11th arrondissement of Paris before returning to their car and driving away at approximately 21.50 CET. At the time of writing this post, about 127 persons were killed, out of 352 persons injured about 100 sustained grievous and life-threatening injuries.
The targets were not random, but carefully chosen by the terrorists. The targets were places where large number of people congregated for the purpose of entertainment, leisure or sports. They targeted young people enjoying a rock concert and ordinary city residents enjoying a Friday night out. In Mumbai too, while the iconic Taj and high-end hotels frequented by foreigners were targeted, terrorists also struck a South Mumbai Café and the CST Railway Station and attempted to kill patients in a hospital. They also attacked the Jewish Chhabad House and killed innocents.
Were the attacks inevitable?
Though the attacks were shocking, they should not have caught the French intelligence napping. Several French nationals of North African/Middle Eastern descent and from other EU countries were known to have travelled to Syria in order to fight either for the Islamic State or other terror groups in Syria/Iraq and the survivors would have returned home with skills to stage violence. The Charlie Hebdo attack which served as a wake-up call demonstrated that there was a constant risk of terror strikes in France and elsewhere in Europe.
Moreover, the country had witnessed several smaller-scale attacks or attempts since, including an incident on a high-speed train in August in which American travelers thwarted an attempted attack by a heavily armed man.
The French military’s participation in bombing Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq and fighting extremists in Africa, and extremist groups have frequently threatened France in the past.
Brian Michael Jenkins, a terrorism expert and senior adviser to the president of the Washington-based RAND Corporation said the tactic used — "multiple attackers in coordinated attacks at multiple locations" — echoed recommendations published in the extremist group's online magazine, Dabbiq, over the summer.
"The big question on everyone's mind is, were these attackers, if they turn out to be connected to one of the groups in Syria, were they homegrown terrorists or were they returning fighters from having served" with the Islamic State group, Jenkins said. "That will be a huge question." The first important part of the post-attack investigation for the Direction générale de la sécurité intérieure, DGSI would be to determine the identity of the attackers; whether they were French nationals or nationals of neighbouring countries like Belgium or were they illegally brought into France for the purpose of executing these strikes. (There have been reports that one of the killed terrorist was a French national). An equally important challenge would be to trace out the cell members or accomplices who gave the terrorists logistical support. The men who perpetrated and their accomplices who were possibly French or Belgian residents were highly trained and motivated. Again these issues have transnational repercussions because EU citizens can travel freely in the Schengen area. At the time of writing this post, France had closed its international borders. International borders cannot be kept closed permanently. There is a need to increase surveillance on minority groups in France, Belgium, Germany, and Netherlands and beyond. It is a nightmarish period for the French External Intelligence Agency, the Direction générale de la sécurité extérieure DGSE. There is an urgent need for concerted effort to track the sleeper cells in these countries and members neutralized (liquidated). In all likelihood the men who executed this operation had sufficient knowledge of the targets because it would be impossible to execute this kind of coordinated strike without reconnaissance.
The attacks will surely have serious political consequences. They come days before France's aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, is due to set sail for the Persian Gulf for actions against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. France has been carrying out airstrikes in Syria since late September. Since the Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attacks and certainly appears to be a case of the attackers being IS members France will have little choice but to target the IS with vigour both within France in the form of a crackdown and militarily strike in Syria and Iraq at notwithstanding the fact that the Syrian battlefield in particular is becoming crowded and complicated.
France will have to seriously re-think and re-consider admitting so-called refugees from the troubled hot spots of North Africa and Middle East. While the German Government led by Ms Merkel has been foolish enough to allow and admit large number of migrants from Syria and other states in the region to enter Germany, this incident can be expected to strengthen the argument of those groups that have been calling for a halt in the flow of immigrants and the closing of borders in countries such as Germany, Sweden and much of Central and Eastern Europe
According to STRATFOR, in the wake of these attacks, Marine Le Pen and her far-right National Front party could see their popularity rise. Le Pen kept a low profile after the Charlie Hebdo shooting in January 2015 and still saw an increase in her party's popularity because of its longstanding anti-immigration stance. Hollande also saw a brief upward trend in popularity after the Charlie Hebdo attack because of his reaction to the events, but a repeat of this trend is not expected because people will now question whether the anti-terrorism measures that were approved this year actually worked. The leader of the center-right Republicans Party, Nicolas Sarkozy, also has a history of taking a strong stance on security issues; he was campaigning on the subject only last week.
Mumbai 26/11 had become a template for jihadis world-wide. If lessons of Mumbai 26/11 were learnt, France could have at least partially thwarted the designs of the terrorists. Of course, unlike Mumbai, the attacks ended within a few hours and the French Special Forces,RAID and SWAT teams deserve to be commended.
The Paris attacks only underscores that open societies / liberal democracies will continue to be susceptible to terrorism. Terrorists have often found it easier to carry out such dastardly attacks on the West as compared to, say, Moscow or Beijing.