Last Friday, November 13, France marked the fifth anniversary of terrorist attacks in Paris. Six multifaceted, co-ordinated attacks were carried out by nine IS suicide terrorists and gunmen, taking the lives of more than 130 people and leaving more than 350 wounded. Lina Kolesnikova reflects on the incidents and the current situation in Europe
It was the worst attack seen in France in terms of the number of victims and it would be no exaggeration to say that the events of March 22, 2016 in Brussels airport (Zaventem) and at the Brussels metro station, Maelbeek, were an echo of 2015’s attacks on the French capital.
This year’s anniversary coincides with a high-alert situation in France after the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, the Nice attack and the national lockdown because of Covid-19.
There are several noteworthy specifics of these attacks. First of all, it was the second attack in Europe to be carried out by returnees from Syria. The first occurred in 2014 in Brussels’ Jewish museum. Following this, there were multiple possible incidents that were prevented by relevant state authorities arresting returnees before attacks could take place.
The Paris attacks have also shown the weakness of the EU when it comes to terrorist threats owing to the situation with border control and the Schengen border system.
Confirmed information is that at least one of the terrorists came to the EU via Greece as a refugee; so the perpetrators were a mix of European and Iraqi nationals. The attack had been planned in Syria, but was organised by a terrorist cell in Molenbeek in Belgium, consisting mainly of French nationals who lived there. This was a truly cross-border affair.
Next, the attackers were divided into three mobile groups. They acted, seemingly, according to a common plan. Here we see some similarities to the Mumbai attack in 2008, which was also carried out by several mobile groups and included shooting, bombing and hostage taking. The Paris attacks combined all of these types of offences, which again raises the question of preparedness and planning with regard to responding to complex attacks.
Of all the individual actions, the Bataclan attack claimed the highest death toll of 90 people. This again should focus more attention on the protection of venues where crowds of people are confined inside an enclosed or semi-enclosed area in a building.
There are certain similarities here with the attack in the Moscow Theatre in 2002 and the Manchester Arena attack in 2017.
In 2015, the first three explosions at the Stade de France during a football match could have been planned as a distraction for response operation management. Knowing that the VIP boxes at the stadium were full – the President of France was among the spectators – so it was clear that more attention and resources would be sent there by the response teams, at least during the initial period. This would have left fewer rapid response resources to be available elsewhere.
France declared a three-month state of emergency after the attack and reintroduced border control during the response phase. France and subsequently Belgium have introduced army patrols in the streets, which could well be a starting point in changing the image of European cities from relaxed, friendly and inviting to visitors, to one of a well-defended fortress.
And finally comes Covid-19, which has made these same cities become even more locked down, with deserted streets and closed shops deeply affecting the life and perception of European cities.
Response planners need to move their attention from singular events to more complex scenarios in order to ensure the resilience of communities across the continent.