The Paris Attacks: What’s Next?

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On the evening of November 13,  2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. Beginning at 21:20 Central European Time, three suicide bombs went off near the Stade de France in Saint-Denis, followed by suicide bombings and mass shootings at cafés, restaurants, and a music venue in Paris. During the night, attackers killed 130 people, including 89 at the Bataclan Theatre, where they took hostages before engaging in a bloody stand-off with police. There were 368 injuries, nearly 100 critical. Seven of the attackers died, but police are still looking for any additional accomplices.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying that their actions were in retaliation to the French airstrikes on ISIL targets in Syria and Iraq. The President of France, François Hollande, said the attacks in Paris were an act of war by the self-proclaimed Islamic State. These attacks were planned in Syria, organised in Belgium, and executed in France. This alludes to the extremely complicated nature of how the Islamic State works and is organized. In response to that night’s events, a state of emergency was declared, temporary border checks were implemented, and the entire country of France was in a national state of mourning for days afterwards. Two days after the attacks, France launched its largest airstrike called Opération Chammal, striking ISIL targets in Al-Raqqah, Syria. On November 18, the suspected lead operative of the attacks, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, was killed in a French police raid in Saint-Denis. Immediate and necessary action were taken by the French government in response to ISIL’s attacks in Paris, but the world is still left wondering about what to do with the extremist terror organization. With ISIL gaining ground in the Middle East, the Western World must deal with the aftermath of the attacks on Paris and brace for more to come.

To fully understand how ISIL operates, their mission, and to develop a clear mission to combat them, it is essential that more is known about the organization itself. First off, the group is known around the world by a variety of names including, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (more commonly used to prevent confusion between unaffiliated groups that go by ISIS), or more recently Daesh, which is similar to a derogatory Arabic term that undermines the legitimacy of ISIL. ISIL itself is a Salafi jihadist militant group that adheres to an Islamic fundamentalist, Wahhabi doctrine of Sunni Islam. The group originated as Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999, which pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda and participated in the Iraqi insurgency in response to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by Western coalitions. Joining other Sunni insurgent groups, it proclaimed the formation of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) in October 2006. In August 2011, following the outbreak of the Syrian Civil War, ISI delegated a mission into Syria establishing a large presence in Sunni-majority provinces, creating what is now known as ISIL. The Islamic State declared in 2014 a world-wide caliphate, with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi being the Caliph. ISIL has control over significant territories in Iraq and Syria, with population estimates ranging from 2 to 8 million people. In all reality though, the self-proclaimed Islamic State is not a state at all, with not a single other country recognizing it as a state.

In the immediate aftermath of the attacks on November 13th, many international leaders, governments and organizations issued statements of mourning and solidarity. Popular response was strong. The attacks were strongly condemned by all, and most countries vowed to stand by and support France. After mourning was expressed, these world leaders all turned to their advisors and began talking about how their respective countries would act in response to the attacks. The attacks prompted European officials—particularly German officials—to re-evaluate their stance on European Union policy toward migrants, given that at least one of the attacks claimed to be a Syrian refugee. Many German officials believed a higher level of scrutiny was needed in dealing with Europe’s, especially Germany’s, migrant crisis, and criticised the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.  The German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel defended Merkel’s stance, saying that a lot of migrants were fleeing the terrorism, that had followed them to Europe. The President of the European Commission rejected calls to rethink the European Union’s policy on migration, dismissing any suggestions that open borders led to the attacks.

The other major player who had to deal with aftermath from the Paris Attacks was across the Atlantic. The United States House of Representatives passed the American SAFE Act of 2015 following the attacks, which would make it even more difficult for fleeing Syrian and Iraqi refugees to enter the US. The bill has yet to pass the Senate, and if it does, President Obama has vowed to veto it, calling the cancellation of a plan to accept refugees “un-American”. He said that he understood why American citizens were worried about terrorism, but asked that they not surrender to fears “that lead us to abandon our values, to abandon how we live.”

Perhaps the most outspoken group of Americans that are against the US allowing Middle Eastern refugees into the United States in the aftermath of the Paris Attacks are the presidential candidates, particularly on the Republic side of the aisle. While Democratic presidential candidates have mainly given their thoughts and prayers, Republicans, not just those running for President, are calling for an increased U.S. footprint in the Middle East, including “boots on the ground,” a halting of plans to increase the numbers of Syrian refugees to the U.S., and an increase in the role of the National Security Agency in surveillance and intelligence-gathering capabilities. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, it seemed the Republican reaction was to use fear-mongering tactics while innocent people were suffering and dying in France. Recently, Donald Trump called to ban all Muslims from entering the US and to track all Muslims currently in the US, and Ted Cruz called to somehow put restrictions on encryption and the internet to deter ISIL plans and communication, though the plans for the attack were not encrypted in any sort of way. While all of this madness is going on in the wake of the Paris Attacks, it is critical to understand that what makes dealing with ISIL so difficult is that these people are united by an idea, and though you can bomb however many people you want, it is incredibly difficult to suppress an idea.

When briefly questioned about his opinions on how to deal with ISIL considering the attacks in France, IHS Senior Will Wallace mainly showed concern as to how refugees would be treated saying, “The real problem is that as a result of the actions of a few radical extremists posing as terrorists, many innocent refugees who are trying to flee from the same extremists will be denied a refugee status, giving these people no choice but to return to and integrate with ISIL.” Will Wallace had an opinion that was shared with the majority of students at Ipswich High School, though many are confused and unsure of how the United States and other countries should deal with ISIL to prevent more attacks in the future.

Mr. Cordiner gave a long interview answering many questions that everyone must ask themselves when trying to wrap their heads around the whole ISIL situation, especially in the wake of the Paris Attacks. Mr. Cordiner believes that, “The big boom for Isis in all of this, of course was that these people were able to successfully infiltrate a Western European country, posing, one of them, posing as a Syrian refugee.” Mr. C continued saying that given the Republican response to the attacks, essentially wanting a, “moratorium on any Muslim coming to this country,” this shows that there is in fact a ‘War on Islam’, which is exactly how ISIL wants this to be projected as. Mr. C went on expressing his belief that the attacks on Paris will be a major recruiting tool for ISIL, “equivalent to al Qaeda’s 9/11.” When asked what types of effects he believes will be a result of the attacks for Europe, the US, and the world, he said, “One thing I think that it’s going to help do, oddly enough, it’s going to push the United States and Russia closer together…The notion being that the United States and Russia would actually be moving in the same direction in Syria, with Syria being headed by Assad.” Mr C said that the, “only entity in Syria capable of expelling ISIS,  like it or not is the Syrian army…The notion that a non muslim entity will be able to take on and defeat ISIS and expel them from Syria is actually playing into ISIS’s hands, because they will then have people coming in once again [referring to the Christian crusaders from the Middle Ages].”

When asked about the possibility of ISIL preparing for more attacks, especially considering the recent San Bernardino shooting, Mr Cordiner said that those responsible for the San Bernardino shootings were quite possibly self-radicalized, having been influenced by ISIL and their attacks on Paris. Mr. C’s opinion was that, “ I would say we would have to absolutely expect that we will see more, and because of the nature of the lack of ties to the Islamic state [because of self-radicalization], makes it almost impossible to try.” Mr. Cordiner’s most insightful opinions were expressed when he was questioned about how he feels the United States should deal with the issue of the Islamic State. Mr. C stated that the true target of ISIL is not the United States, but rather Saudi Arabia. This is because in ISIL’s attempt to have a Caliphate, it must have control of both Mecca and Medina. The problem is that many private citizens in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and possibly even Turkey have been helping to fund ISIL. So how is the US going to deal with ISIL? “Well, you can of course form a de facto Christian Coalition, I guess you could say, with Europeans, the Russians, United States,” said Mr. C. The first task of this Christian Coalition fighting in the Islamic Middle East, would be to end the Syrian Civil War. Mr. C continues, saying, “That means the United States needs to stop supporting these quote unquote moderate muslims militias, because we spent, what was it, four to five hundred million dollars and we train four [militiamen]…That means you need to allow Russia to properly support Assad. You need to start defunding these militias. And you have to find some middle ground, where Assad can say they can have some degree of more rights.”

With the conclusion of the Syrian Civil War and the restoration of Assad to power in order to deal with ISIL in Syria, now it is necessary to fix the Iraqi side of this whole mess, where you have a large number of disaffected Sunnis who turned against al-Maliki as Prime Minister of Iraq. “You now have a large number of Shia militias operating in Iraq,” continues Mr. C, “Under the behest of Iran and you have the I.R.C.G., the Iranian Republican Guard Corps operating. So this is all going on, the Islamic state is tucked right in the middle of a proxy war going on between Iran and Saudi Arabia.” This proxy war centers around oil, especially considering that Iran will soon be able to sell its oil on the open markets again. Saudi Arabia and Iran must now find some way to end their proxy war, while maintaining an equal footing with what they started with, allow the Shia militias to handle ISIS in the western parts of Iraq, and allow the Kurds to retake Mosul as best they can, which would in a perfect world restore some form of order to the Middle East. Mr. Cordiner concluded his interview by stating that the fact of the matter is, that when dealing with ISIL, “There’s no easy answer. There’s no easy solution; anyone who says just go in and start bombing has no understanding of the situation and bombings not really going to solve anything because you can’t kill everyone.”

The attacks were the deadliest on France since World War II, and the deadliest in the European Union since the Madrid train bombings in 2004. France had been on high alert since the January 2015 attacks in Paris that killed 17 people, including civilians and police officers. These attacks in Paris highlight the volatility between the relations of the Islamic State and the rest of the world. It is essential that the United States and the rest of the world tread carefully as they deal with the complexities that arise from a situation like this.