Emboldened jihadists likely to plan further attacks
Analysis: Scale of Paris attacks speaks of network behind command & control and logistics
Friday’s attacks in Paris will remind some Irish citizens of the Provisional IRA’s campaign in Britain during the Troubles.
In 1974 and 1975, the PIRA’s Balcombe Street Gang launched over 40 indiscriminate bomb and gun attacks in central London which killed 35 civilians and wounded hundreds of others.
The PIRA spent many years slowly building up “active service units” or terror cells on the British mainland.
Many of those involved were termed “Lily Whites” by the defence and intelligence community, as they had no prior criminal or intelligence profiles. They were young men and women carefully chosen and groomed for republican radicalisation and acts of violence.
The same dynamic is being employed by those behind the Paris attacks, now being claimed by Islamic State, across the European Union.
The terror attacks in Paris are part of a sequence of attacks that began in January with the Charlie Hebdo murders.
In that attack, Cherif and Said Kouachi killed a dozen journalists and staff in an opportunistic, frenzied attack with assault rifles – at point blank range.
A botched attack on a high speed train bound for Paris in August demonstrated that there remains within the EU a pool of young men and women who are vulnerable to grooming and radicalisation by terror networks such as Islamic State.
Many of those involved to date have had no prior criminal or intelligence records.
What is particularly disturbing about Friday’s attacks is that they revealed a level of planning and organisation normally associated with a highly evolved terrorist network.
The attackers were not lone wolves, but acted in concert and opened fire in a controlled and calculated fashion designed to inflict the maximum in casualties.
The perpetrators also used a combination of assault rifles and high explosives.
The numbers involved in the attacks and the spread of attacks over six target areas within the 11th Arrondissement speak of a much larger network of command and control and logistics behind Islamic State’s operations in Paris.
In short, the level of training and determination involved speak of a terrorist organisation that is embarked on a steep learning curve, and a terror network that is growing in strength and confidence.
Arising from this trend, it can be assumed that there will be further such attacks within France and throughout the EU.
Islamic State, if it proves certain that they are the perpetrators, will be emboldened by the success of their Paris terror operation and will plan further attacks.
It is a certainty that many of those involved in the gestation, planning and control of Friday’s attacks remain at large and undetected.
French counter-terrorism efforts in the aftermath of the attacks may expose other members of the network, with further firefights and barricade or hostage incidents possible in the coming days and weeks.
Apart from those Islamist terrorists based in France, other radicalised groups may seek to mount copycat attacks elsewhere throughout the EU.
Many member states have raised their threat levels in the aftermath of the attack. Britain and Belgium are very conscious of the threat posed by their citizens returning from involvement in jihad in Iraq and Syria.
There has been a highly publicised debate in these jurisdictions as to the measures required to monitor and reintegrate citizens who return from combat in the Middle East.
Ireland has a similar proportion – per head of population – of passport holders who have travelled to fight in Iraq and Syria.
An Garda Síochána, the Minister for Justice and the Centre for the Study of Radicalisation at Kings College, London estimate that about 30 or so Irish citizens have already been radicalised in this way.
The Irish Government, in its White Paper on Defence, recognises the potential threat posed by such returnees in organising and mounting terror attacks at targets in Ireland or elsewhere in the EU.
Whilst a home-grown attack by radicalised Islamists in Ireland is not as likely as in mainland Europe, it is a possibility.
Ireland is unique by European standards in terms of the lack of investment and resources in counterterrorism. Unlike the UK or France, we have no equivalent intelligence services or border forces.
Gardaí are very proactive in this area, but are under-strength due to recent austerity measures.
If Dublin had suffered attacks similar to those in Paris, our emergency departments – already crowded with elderly patients on trolleys – simply could not cope.
Friday’s attacks in Paris are sadly a game changer, and ought to give all citizens pause for thought, in France or elsewhere in the EU.
Islamic State and their affiliates have shown a fast learning curve in mounting such attacks.
They will see this operation in Paris as a stellar success and will be emboldened to repeat the exercise.
It will also encourage copy-cat attacks elsewhere.
Ireland is among those states that needs to sit up and take notice of the lessons learned by all sides in Friday’s horrific killings. Terrorism is here to stay.