Paris à nouveau – What lessons can we learn? – An opinion piece by Philip Ingram
The term Friday 13th will now forever by synonymous with an evening of deadly attacks on the streets of Paris. Normal Parisians and tourists were sitting in café’s and bars, at a long planned rock concert, enjoying a friendly football match between two historical rivals, when their evening was shattered by explosions, automatic gunfire and carnage. Friday 13th, the horror movie became a more gruesome and shocking reality.
First reports of gunfire came from Le Carillon bar, at 18 rue Alibert, witnesses then describe how the man then crossed the road and turned his gun on a restaurant, Le Petit Cambodge (Little Cambodia). Then came an attack on diners a few streets south of rue Alibert, on the terrace of La Casa Nostra pizzeria, in rue de la Fontaine au Roi.
In the North of the city, France and Germany were playing a friendly football match at the Stade de France stadium; President Hollande was there. About half an hour after kick-off, the first of three explosions was heard within the stadium occurred and the president was immediately led to safety. Reports received by Security News Desk said that one of the suicide bombers had tried to get into the ground with a ticket but got spooked and detonated his suicide vest, causing the others to do the same attacking fast food outlets and a brassiere near the stadium.
The next reports of shootings came to the south of the first restaurant attacks, at La Belle Equipe bar in the rue de Charonne in the 11th district; two men were seen opening fire, spraying bullets at the terrace of the cafe. The deadliest attack of the night came in the 11th district in Boulevard Voltaire where several gunmen raided a concert venue where the American rock group Eagles of Death Metal, was playing. The 1,500-seat hall was sold out and at least 100 people were killed as the attackers had stormed the hall with one apparently shouting “God is great” in Arabic. As Police stormed the venue, one attacker was shot dead and two others blew themselves up.
As the details of the attackers begin to emerge we are seeing an old theme, a failure of the intelligence services, a theme that should be old of cross international border coordination with a Belgian and possibly German link and a worrying theme of attackers being infiltrated into Europe with the tsunami of refugees coming from Syria and other war torn parts of the world; many via Turkey or Libya.
As Early as 26th Feb 2015 in SecurityMiddleEast.com’s Regional Intelligence Report titled “Islamic State Maritime Trade” ISIS people smuggling was outlined and the movement of fighters into Sirte in Libya detailed. With detail provided by an ex Jihadist and British spy, Aimen Dean, his prediction was “The arrangement could potentially be extended further to include the smuggling of experienced and battle handed terror operatives to EU shores to carry out terror attacks insider EU countries.”
The admission by French security forces that they had one of the attackers, Omar Ismail Mostefai, a 29-year-old French citizen of Algerian origin “on their books” but because of the numbers of people they are watching and following they didn’t have the resources to track everyone is a shocking admission.
It plays hugely into the hands of ISIS who want us to be suspicious of every refugee coming into Europe. They know the impact that will have on already strained intelligence and security resources and know they will be able to exploit further gaps created by already giving more work to resources stretched so thin they break, that break allowed Mostefai and his accomplices to bring terror to the streets of a European capital. It could have been any European Capital.
The plight of the genuine refugees has now taken a turn for the worse, as human nature will be to view them with suspicion and this will likely spill further to the wider Muslim community. We have to realize that if we allow this to happen, it will only push further disaffected individuals to the ISIS cause. I clearly remember the way I was looked at during the height of IRA activity in Northern Ireland and the UK mainland when I spoke, I could silence a bar in London when I asked for a beer, because of my accent.
We must not turn this into a Muslim against the world issue. It is not a religion issue. Northern Ireland was polarised in public opinion to being a Catholic vs Protestant problem when the vast majority of both religious communities were completely anti terror. I am still having to correct educated people that the historical terror in Northern Ireland was not a religious issue. We must not let the Muslim faith be associated in peoples minds with what is simply extremism, barbaric extremism using terror tactics to attack our free way of life.
The international dimension is one we have known about and a line on a map designating one country from another is of no consequence for a terrorist especially with the open borders of Europe. The difficulty in dealing with cross border terrorist activity has been well known in recent times and continuously on the radar of anyone who has looked at terrorism in Europe. The IRA did this from 1969 operating with impunity from Eire into Northern Ireland.
Following the terrorist attacks in Madrid on 11 March 2004, the European Council adopted a declaration on combating terrorism. Among the measures included in this declaration was the establishment of the position of a Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
On 19 September 2007, then EU High Representative for Common Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana, appointed Gilles de Kerchove as EU Counter-Terrorism Coordinator.
In a statement on counter-terrorism of 12 February 2015, members of the European Council set out an ambitious agenda based on three pillars: ensuring the security of citizens, preventing radicalisation and safeguarding values and cooperating with our international partners. They requested the Council to report on the detailed implementation of these priorities by the June European Council.
In the meantime, on 28 April 2015, the European Commission has adopted the European Agenda for Security, which includes counter terrorism as a priority and supports a number of the directions identified by Heads of State and Government.
It seems that counter terrorism effort in Europe is bogged down with much of the rest of European bureaucracy where it is limited to writing policies, setting agendas, having meetings and discussions to agree ways forward. Whilst these are very important to ensure longer-term single policy, like everything in a bureaucratically heavy politically motivated system, it misses reality. The reality is the terrorists don’t follow the same bureaucratic processes. They just do terror.
The time has come to take a common European and then global stance. The best countries counter terror model for operationally combatting the threat should be adopted, implemented and then adapted as policy emerged. 80% effectiveness now is better that 100% effectiveness never.
Probably the best model is the UK Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC). JTAC analyses and assesses all intelligence relating to international terrorism, at home and overseas. It sets threat levels and issues warnings of threats and other terrorist-related subjects for customers from a wide range of government departments and agencies, as well as producing more in-depth reports on trends, terrorist networks and capabilities.
JTAC brings together counter-terrorist expertise from the police, and government departments and agencies. Collaborating in this way ensures that information is analysed and processed on a shared basis, with the involvement and consensus of all relevant departments. Given the number of disrupted attacks there are in the UK, in essence as an operational model it works.
As the G20 leaders meet in Turkey it is important that their discussion agrees action and formal cooperation, not more mechanisms for discussion or informal cooperation. If it doesn’t we will see increasing isolationism directed against refugees, the potential for increasing polarisation against Muslim communities and we will definitely see more attacks, possibly more deadly that 13-11-15.
Philip Ingram, a former intelligence specialist and now journalist from Northern Ireland with input from Aimen Dean of 5 Dimension Consultants and Vasco Amador of Global Risk Awareness, wrote this opinion piece.