A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.
Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, the mastermind of the attack dispatched eight terrorists to the City of Lights to kill as many people as possible and focus the world’s attention on ISIS. According to the ISIS claim of responsibility the terrorists “targeted sites that were accurately chosen in the heart of the capital of France.” The soft targets included restaurants, bars, a concert hall and a stadium. The first target was packed with over 81,000 individuals who were attending a soccer game between Germany and France. The three suicide bombers arrived at the National Stadium, north of Paris in the Saint Denis neighborhood. The plan called for the first suicide bomber to make his way inside the stadium and detonate his device. This would cause a panic and as fans exited the stadium the other two suicide bombers would detonate their suicide vests among the throngs of escaping panicked people.
Any explosion inside the stadium would have caused people to flee out of the stadium. At least that appears to have been the plan. But on that evening French President Francois Hollande was in attendance to watch the soccer game. Security at the stadium was at a higher level than normal with the French President and the German Foreign Minister in the stadium. Due to this higher level of security the suicide bomber was not able to gain entry without being searched by security.
But for the three suicide bombers at the stadium nothing went according to their plan. The three suicide bombers arrived late to the soccer match. Had they arrived early they could have attacked the thousands of fans making their way towards the stadium. The first suicide bomber attempted to enter the National Stadium at Gate D. Arriving late after the pageantry of the soccer game had concluded the suicide bomber armed with a ticket and a bomb was searched as he attempted to enter the stadium. The suicide bomber was able to step away from the security guards conducting the search once he realized he wouldn’t be able to enter the stadium. He then detonated his explosive device.
The second suicide bomber was expecting a panicked throng of people fleeing the stadium from Gate H. Ten minutes after the first explosion and when no panicked people exited the stadium, he detonated his suicide vest. After the two explosions outside the stadium, French officials decided not to tell the fans or the players about the danger and decided to just let the match play out. This way the fans would be sheltered in place. They didn’t want to panic the crowd and additional time could be used for police and security to sweep the area around the stadium. In the meantime the French President was moved from the stadium.
Bilal Hadfi, third suicide bomber had moved away from the stadium once he saw no crowds leaving the stadium. The 20-year old suicide bomber knew his two friends had martyred themselves. He was expecting a panicked throng of people fleeing the stadium. Thirty-three minutes after the first explosion outside the stadium, Hadfi detonated his suicide vest on Rue de la Cokerie, just outside a McDonald’s restaurant. Hadfi, a French citizen had been living in Belgium after he had traveled to Syria to fight for ISIS. Hadfi had to return to France to obtained what he sought in Syria-martyrdom.
Tourists and Parisians all go out for dinner on weekend nights. November 13, 2015 was just another busy night for numerous restaurants, cafes and bars. For the terrorists these businesses were just other soft targets crowded with unarmed people. The terrorists attacked diners sitting outside of Le Carillon and Bar shooting diners enjoying a nice Paris night sitting outside. After killing patrons there the terrorists moved to Le Petit Cambodge, a family restaurant entering and killing numerous individuals. This team of terrorists then shot people who were outside at Café Bonne Biere and anyone else who presented an easy target.
Ibrahim Abdeslam, did not look to escape like his younger brother Salah. Instead he sat down and placed an order at a café table outside of Comptoir Voltaire Café. After placing his order he detonated his device killing only himself outside the Café.
Two vehicles, a Volkswagen Polo and a SEAT Leon were rented in Belgium by Salah Abdeslam and his brother Ibrahim. Three of the terrorists armed with AK-47s and suicide vests exited the black Polo and entered the Bataclan Concert Hall. Ismail Omar Mostefai, Sami Amimour and one other terrorist began killing people the moment they entered. The sold out concert featuring the American band Eagles of Death Metal became a site of death and carnage. From 9:30 till 12:30 a.m. a total of 89 individuals lost their lives. Police assaulted the venue killing one of the terrorist and the other two detonated their suicide belts.
By 12:30 a.m. seven of the terrorists were dead. Only one remained alive and he quickly contacted someone in Belgium to arrange his escape from the City of Lights. By morning the police would identify him and the manhunt would begin. For some reason Salah Abdeslam didn’t want to martyr himself that night. Instead he sought to escape. Clearly this was not part of the terrorist plan. Just like with Amir Kasab, the Mumbai terrorist who was wounded and captured-Salah Abdeslam didn’t become a martyr like his brother Ibrahim.
Early Saturday morning about 3:00 a.m. a Volkswagen Golf crossed from the Belgium border into France. Five hours later the vehicle was stopped as it returned to Belgium. The police checked the vehicle and its occupants and when none were “wanted” the vehicle was allowed to enter Belgium. Abdeslam Salah one of the Paris terrorists and two others were the occupants of the vehicle. Until Abdeslam Salah is captured we can expect whatever follow on attacks that ISIS had planned might be sped up.
But France and Belgium might not be the only areas where the threat is heightened. John Brennan, the CIA Director stated that these may “not (be) the only operation that ISIS has in the pipeline.” It is quite clear that ISIS is exporting terror globally. ISIS today threatened attacks on Washington D.C. stating in a video:
“We say to the states that take part in the crusader campaign that, by God, you will have a day, God willing, like France’s and by God, as we struck France in the center of its abode in Paris, then we swear that we will strike America at its center in Washington.” Whether we like it or not once again we have a radical Salafist terrorist organization setting its crosshairs on the United States.
Anyone who has ever visited Paris knows why Thomas Jefferson loved to walk the streets of Paris. Some of those homegrown terrorists missed out on what Jefferson called the point of Life. France was the first country to aid our new nation seeking independence. Today France has declared war on ISIS. The United States needs to take a leadership position in the world and solve the problem once and for all.
While it is still early, the Paris attacks conducted on November 13, 2015 are similar to the November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks. Both attacks utilized firearms attacks on soft targets. In both attacks none of the terrorists planned to escape and all were to become martyrs. The watershed moment of the Paris attacks is that the world needs to recognize that ISIS is now exporting global terror.
In October 2015, the ISIS affiliated group in Egypt claimed credit for downing a Russian aircraft in the Sinai killing all 224 people on the flight. From early reports it appears that a bomb was placed onboard the aircraft.
In August 2015, three Americans thwarted an attack on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris. The gunman exited the restroom armed with an AK-47 but was captured after a struggle on the train. The master mind of the train attack also directed the Paris attack. Abdel Hamid Abaaoud, a Belgium citizen is a hardcore jihadist who even recruited his younger brother to fight in Syria. Abaaoud is the mastermind of the Paris attacks and is a close friend with Salah Abdslam, who is still on the lam. On January 15, 2015, Belgium police raided the cell he had set up in Virviers, Belgium discovering automatic weapons, police uniforms and chemicals needed to make TATP, the same explosive used in the Paris attacks.
Soft targets equal high casualties. Restaurants, cafes, bars, concert halls and stadiums are all soft targets. Terrorists know that they can do horrific damage before police respond and neutral the threat. One example of this is delay in police entering the Bataclan Concert Hall. Armed with the knowledge that the terrorists had AK-47s and suicide vests it appears that the first responders faced a number of challenges attempting to enter this venue.
Simple tactics and simple weapons can have devastating results. The terrorist were armed with AK-47s and suicide vests. They employed simple tactics of being mobile and using cover and reload techniques inside the Concert Hall. With one shooter covering individuals, the other terrorist could reload and then shoot individuals.
Security can stop and impede terrorist access avoiding greater casualties. At the National Stadium, one of the suicide bombers could not gain entry due to security wanting to search him. Instead he had to step back from security where he detonated his device. While we are unsure if the terrorists knew that the French President was in attendance at the Stadium, his mere presence raised the normal level of security.
Protecting certain soft targets will continue to create challenges. Stadiums are designed to move large numbers of people into and out of in a small amount of time. If the suicide bombers had targeted the flow of fans coming early into the stadium the casualties here would have been much higher.
News Media creates a feeding frenzy. Any complex terrorist attack will command the news cycle and is part of the terrorist feeding frenzy that encourages copycat and future attacks. There is a need to find a balance of reporting these incidents and not creating a feeding frenzy.
The United States has trained law enforcement and the first responder community to be prepared for incidents within a community. For the last five years all law enforcement has undertaken active shooter drills and training. The United States needs to prepare for simultaneous attacks in multiple locations in multiple cities.