Security Correspondent Dr Dave Sloggett explores the implications of the attacks in Paris:
There are those that believe somehow Friday 13th is a date that is one filled with foreboding. In Paris in 2015 that fiction became a reality. In a series of six attacks timed from 20:20 GMT to 23:20 GMT when French Police forced their way into the Bataclan theatre where hostages had been taken over 130 people were killed and nearly one hundred were left in what the French refer to as in a state of “absolute emergency”. With such numbers it is almost inevitable that the total number of dead will rise. This was France’s worst ever terrorist attack by some margin.
The sequence of attacks had emerged in a fast flowing and clearly planned initial situation. Within twenty minutes at five locations across Paris three suicide bombers had killed themselves and gunmen had opened attacks at two restaurants and bars. In that first twenty minutes seventeen people lay dead and eleven were seriously wounded. But this was just the aperitif. What was about to emerge was to create a denouement that would see the number of dead and injured climb swiftly towards five hundred in total.
This was not the end of the savagery. At 20:53 a suicide bomber detonates his vest outside Stade de France. He was the only casualty. The attack on the Bataclan concert hall at 20:40 was the centrepiece of the incident. As a rock concert was playing three individuals opened fire killing at least eighty-nine people and wounding many more. The scenes that have emerged of the theatre show a scene of utter carnage.
Within a matter of hours what was blindingly obvious was confirmed by a statement issued by the group known as Islamic State (IS). They had carried out the attacks. The fact that IS was behind the attack was not specifically difficult to grasp. Already it has been confirmed that all three suicide bombers used the same explosive (TATP), detonator and battery. Clearly there was a high degree of coordination in the planning of the operation. That is unlikely to have occurred in France. Chances are this epic attack was hatched in Syria.
That they could mount an operation of this sophistication however was shocking. In one fail swoop IS had catapulted themselves into the big league of terrorist attacks. That three teams of terrorists could coordinate their actions across Paris is a worrying development.
'Prepared for further aftershocks'
They had, in one single moment of violence, re-stated their claim to lead the international jihadist movement. Given their track record and history of violence this does not bode well for Western Europe and the emergency services of the United Kingdom.
As the French Prime Minister pointed out in the immediate aftermath of the attacks France “must be prepared for further aftershocks”. Clearly the French Prime Minister does not believe this is an isolated incident. As far as terrorist attacks are concerned France has had a busy last year. Setting aside the attacks on Charlie Hebdo which saw seventeen people die in total the other attacks have involved a range of means including knives, firearms and cars. Many of these were carried out by a lone individual. The attacks were of a similar magnitude to that which occurred in Woolwich to Drummer Lee Rigby. He was killed by an initial attack by a car that disabled his ability to defend himself before he was quite literally hacked to death.
As if the attack in Paris was not bad enough in its own right. When see against the backdrop of the probable explosion on the Russian airliner and two suicide bombers dying in Beirut IS has demonstrated that it can carry out three complex attacks – across two continents – in a fortnight. This is a partial spectrum of terrorist attacks that only miss the use of improvised chemical weapons.
Al Qaeda has never been able to maintain such a tempo of attacks. A key reason why IS has gained in popularity at Al Qaeda’s expense. With groups that were formerly loyal to Al Qaeda increasingly defecting to IS the events in Paris are likely to provide an additional impetus to their recruitment. The death total from all three events currently stands at 393. These events have certainty impressed the United Kingdom’s Prime Minister David Cameron who noted that events in Paris show IS has an appetite for “mass casualty attacks”. Clearly a major shift of focus has occurred in the tactics employed by IS. They are now parking their tanks on Al Qaeda’s tactical lawn. One can only imagine the scale of horror that might be being planned in their evil and seditious minds.
These innovations in tactics have been directly encouraged from the centre of IS which uses a range of ways of communicating its wishes to its followers all over the world. Its’ social media presence is considerable posting an estimated 100,000 tweets a day.
As Al Qaeda teeters on the edge of the abyss of irrelevance IS has become stronger than ever, demonstrating an ability to reach out into Europe and kill and injure hundreds of people. The time when the chaotic images of Paris are translated to a location in the United Kingdom cannot be far away. For the emergency services there are lessons to learn from what happened in France. With something close to an apocalypse rising on the horizon the time for learning such lessons is almost too short.