The deadly events in France Friday evening brought, it seems, to an end to the drama that began 48 hours earlier at the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, with mixed results. Two of the terrorists who committed the massacre at the newspaper and the terrorist who followed their lead and took hostages at a kosher supermarket in eastern Paris - were killed. But at least four of the hostages at the grocery store lost their lives as well.
It seems that the French security forces didn't have much room for maneuver. From the moment the two Kouachi brothers were spotted at the print shop north of the capital, and from the moment the second terrorist attack at the Paris supermarket was discovered – it was clear that the counterterrorism units were operating on borrowed time. There was no real possibility for negotiating with the brothers, after they had murdered 12 people in cold blood at the magazine headquarters. The demand made by the third terrorist Amedy Coulibaly, to let the brothers leave unharmed, was unacceptable. What was needed was a coordinated raid at both scenes, even at the risk of putting some of the hostages' lives in danger.
The forces' main objective was likely ending the crisis as fast as possible, as well as rescuing as many hostages as they could. Every hour that passed, with the world media paying undivided attention, only benefitted the kidnappers.
A rescue operation necessitates visual intelligence from cameras and floorplans, an operational assault plan, and the choosing of the right course of action. All these take time, but according to the initial reports from France on Friday, the Kouachi brothers were the ones dictating the pace of events. From the moment they emerged with guns blazing, the Paris kidnapping had to be ended immediately, since Coulibaly was threatening to kill the rest of the hostages if the brothers were harmed.
The series of attacks in France bears a certain resemblance to the terror attack in Mumbai in 2008, and is especially similar to the raid on the mall in Nairobi, Kenya in 2013. In some of the biggest terror attacks in recent years, the terrorists – affiliated with radical Islam – didn't intend to hold real negotiations. The objective was simple: A massive massacre followed by a prolonged conflict aimed at drawing as much attention to their acts as possible. And an attack in a European capital – today more than ever – guarantees a global marathon broadcast on television and the Web, with resonance of these attacks amplified as time goes by (the massacre at a Pakistani school last month and the ongoing terror attacks by Boko Haram in Nigeria received a fraction of the coverage of the Paris crises).
The terrorists said they attacked the French magazine because it published cartoons that insulted the Prophet Mohammed. This excuse for violence didn't originate with ISIS (Islamic State) or with Al-Qaida. It was Shi'ite Iran that, back in the 1980s, issued the fatwa against author Salman Rushdie for his book "The Satanic Verses." This was followed by the outcry over the cartoon in the Danish newspaper.
What has changed is that the link between the West and the events transpiring in the Middle East has become stronger. The airlift of Jihadists to Syria and to Iraq and back, as well as the Arab satellite channels widely covering the horrors of war in the region, have led to an escalation in the radicalization of some of Europe's young Muslims. Tensions with the West were exacerbated further by the aerial campaign against ISIS announced by the international coalition last September. European intelligence services predicted that this attack would lead to a wave of revenge attacks on Western targets.
If the reports that one of the Kouachi brothers trained at an Al-Qaida camp in Yemen are credible, this points to a significant intelligence gathering breach on the part of French intelligence services. Such a man should have been under constant surveillance, especially since it was known that he was in contact with extreme Islamists in France.
In a kind of media consensus, the attacks are already described as "France's 9/11." It is likely that surveillance of Muslim extremists in France will be greatly tightened and intelligence and security measures will be stepped up. For their own good, one can only hope that the French don't overreact in the way the Bush administration did, leading to the Abu Ghraib abuse scandal, Guantanamo, and the intrusive and systematic tracking of citizens on the Internet and on their phones, exposed more than a year ago by Eduard Snowden.
Like previous attacks in Toulouse and Brussels, a "Jewish" target was picked on Friday for the attack. This follows a series of reported harassments of French Jews in recent months. On Friday, Israel's security services and government officials held consultations on the possibility of helping European Jewish communities protect their institutions. Security measures at synagogues, community centers, and other Jewish institutions will surely be tightened, but a willing terrorist can always identify a "soft" unprotected target to attack - like a kosher grocery store.
The reasonable (and disparaging) assumption is that the dramatic events of the past week are not the last link in the chain. In light of the popularity of organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaida among young Muslims in the West, one should expect more terror attacks carried out by European Muslims, targeting - among others - Jews.
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