Today in Terrorism: 13 November

The Bataclan theatre attack catapulted ISIS, and more specifically, returning foreign terrorist fighters into the international limelight.

I have never witnessed a terrorist attack, let alone been injured in one. I have had to analyse the aftermath of many terrorist attacks and even been a small part of a larger team that helped to prevent such events. But as an eye witness? No, and I hope that stays true.

The closest I suppose I ever did come to being in the wrong place at the wrong time was four years ago, in Paris. My eldest daughter and I had just finished up a two-week sojourn through Normandy and northern France, culminating with an emotional day at Vimy Ridge on Remembrance Day, and headed back to Canada.

After the long flight my daughter, who is not surprisingly much more social media savvy than me, turned on her phone, turned to me and said “Oh my God, dad, there was a terrorist attack in Paris today!”

Listen to my interview with my daughter on my podcast An Intelligent Look at Terrorism

2015 attacks in Paris

This was the series of attacks that took place outside the Stade de France stadium, outside several restaurants and bars in the core of Paris and culminating with the siege at a rock concert at the Bataclan Theatre. In all, 130 people were killed – 90 at the Bataclan alone – and more than 400 injured. The attacks were the largest in France since WWII and the greatest in Europe since the 2004 Madrid bombings.

Those behind the murders were all members of Islamic State (ISIS) and operated out of a cell in Brussels, Belgium. Several of the terrorists had fought with ISIS in Iraq and Syria and the group claimed that the actions were retribution for French airstrikes against them.

Stade de France, Paris, 2015

The events were an important reminder of several things:

  • Military actions against terrorist groups abroad, whether we see them as justified or not, can bring about revenge violence on the homefront;
  • The FTF – foreign terrorist fighter – problem is a real one and not easy to solve;
  • Terrorists will strike where they can and we do not have enough protective resources to prevent all attacks;
  • By hitting everyday targets such as football stadia and bars terrorists seek to make us afraid (“there is nowhere you can hide”).

I hope never to be any closer to an attack. I did what little I could to contribute to counter terrorism for 15 years at CSIS and am trying to make even smaller contributions now through this series, other blogs and podcasts, my media appearances and my books. I sincerely hope all this is of some use.

But I do want to end on a cautionary note. There is a lot of hue and cry to bring back FTFs, especially women and children. We should really think hard about whether we need – or want – to do this (children excepted – bring them back and get them away from their terrorists parents).

If there is any lesson from Paris that would be it.