Explosions and gunfire reverberated through the streets of Paris on a Friday night. A series of six attacks yesterday inflicted terror upon the entire world. This coordinated attack with 3 different teams resulted in at least 129 dead, 352 injured with 99 in critical condition. It reminded everyone of their vulnerability, even when going about everyday life in the West. Targets included a soccer stadium, where a friendly match between France and Germany was occurring, a concert hall, and five different streets. The goal was clearly to kill or injure as many civilians as possible at once, as seen by the coordination behind the attack and the volatile type of explosive that was used.
But what was the main motivator for imposing such terror on the world? The Islamic State (IS) has claimed that they perpetrated the attack, with the targeted locations “accurately chosen” and this operation as the “first of the storm”. They did not include any proof of their involvement in the attack, and this attack is out of character for the group. While they have primarily focused on maintaining and expanding their territorial reach in Iraq and Syria in the past, this type of coordinated attack on foreign soil is more of al-Qaeda’s expertise. If the Islamic State is indeed behind the attack, it signals a shift in strategy that directly targets the West.
Previous foreign attacks claimed by the Islamic State were thought to be perpetrated by “lone wolf” style attackers. Analysts have long thought that these attacks in Tunisia, Kuwait, France, Egypt, and other places were perpetuated by supporters of the Islamic State, not directly planned and orchestrated by IS’s central leadership. Becoming more deliberate about planning foreign attacks could allow IS to become more like al-Qaeda: externally and not internally focused.
The change in style to increased attacks on foreign soil could be motivated by the current situation on the ground in Iraq and Syria. Key supply routes and cities have been taken, especially in Iraq, by new Sunni militias and Kurdish forces. These losses could have motivated the IS attack on Paris. Every overt spectacle of an attack showcases their power and can be used to draw in more foreign fighters. Islamophobic blowback is typical following such attacks, and could potentially spur others to fight for jihad no matter where they are located. The reaction of France and the rest of the West will be instrumental in whether such an attack is deemed a success for IS in terms of its recruitment.
Thus far, the dust has not yet settled from the attacks in Paris. It is impossible to know all of the policy implications in the fight against IS that will be implemented in the coming weeks. However, France’s Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier was already scheduled to go to the Mediterranean to help stage French airstrikes against IS. This allows France to have the resources necessary to strike back. French President François Hollande has made some notable statements about the attacks, including that they constituted an “act of war”. His statement points to the possibility of invoking Chapter 5 of NATO, which could force increased military involvement from NATO members. Until more information is known, we must prepare ourselves for all of the consequences that a terrorist attack can bring.