Islamic State Expands Global Reach With Deadly Attacks in Paris

  • Seven locations in French capital were simultaneously hit
  • Group previously said it carried out Beirut, Sinai attacks

Ankara. Sinai. Beirut and now Paris.

The attacks in the French capital join a growing list of places that have suffered deadly attacks in the past five weeks, and whose combined toll may exceed 500 people. Islamic State militants have claimed responsibility for all of them, although some authorities have yet to conclude their investigations.

Smoke rises in the distance behind an Islamic State (IS) group flag and banner

Photographer: Marwan Ibrahim/AFP/Getty Images

"The message that Islamic State seems to be sending through the attacks is that its reach is global and that none of its enemies will be spared," said Lina Khatib, senior research associate at the Arab Reform Initiative in Paris. "Subsequent attacks can, unfortunately, happen almost anywhere" it has supporters, she said.

Retaliation

The al-Qaeda breakaway group said in a statement that the violence was in retaliation for France’s airstrikes against the so-called caliphate it established in Syria and Iraq after its militants seized swathes of land, including key cities such as Mosul.

As the attacks spread, so does their frequency. The Paris carnage came just a day after Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for killing more than 40 people in its first suicide bombing in Hezbollah’s stronghold in Beirut. The group’s Sinai affiliate also said it was behind the downing of the Russian Metrojet plane that killed 224 people on Oct. 31. While Egypt says the cause of the crash is unknown, the U.S. and U.K. have said the plane was most likely brought down by a bomb.

No Coincidence

“I don’t think it’s coincidence that first of all a Russian airliner is targeted over the Sinai and secondly that Paris has been targeted,” Nick Witney, senior policy fellow at European Council on Foreign Relations, said by phone from London. “It’s hard to resist the conclusion that both these acts are direct retaliation for bombing in Syria.”

If Islamic State is found to have carried out the Paris slaughter and the downing of a Russian airliner over Egypt, that would signal the group has evolved into a more potent terrorist force, according to a U.S. counter-terrorism official, who spoke on condition of anonymity before the group’s claim of responsibility.

Guiding Hand

Before the most recent attacks, almost all of Islamic State’s operations were confined to Syria, Iraq and neighboring Turkey.

“This is serious jump in operational capability and willingness than even the Charlie Hebdo attacks,” said Patrick Skinner a former CIA case officer who’s now the director of special projects for the Soufan Group, a security consulting firm.

The strikes, which occurred almost simultaneously in seven separate venues across the French capital, carried the hallmarks of trained fighters.  A statement attributed to the group and posted on Twitter said eight of its fighters were involved in the attacks, which it said were “the first drop of rain.”

‘Trained Very Well’

A medic tends to a man

Photographer: Thierry Chesnot/Getty Images

"For terrorists to inflict such a large amount of damage they must have been trained very well,” said Ghanem Nuseibeh, founder of Cornerstone Global Associates, which advises clients on risk in the Middle East.

The equipment, the timing and coordination show that “it’s not a layman and it’s not a lone attacker,” Nuseibeh said by phone from Dubai.

French planes are bombing militants in Syria as part of a U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State and President Francois Hollande announced on Nov. 5 that he ordered the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier to deploy to support the strikes. The coalition provided air cover as Kurdish Peshmerga forces drove out Islamic State fighters from the center of the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar on Friday.

There will be questions about how the Paris plot was not foreseen, given U.S. intelligence monitoring of the group’s fighters in places such as the Syrian town of Raqqa, where it’s believed an Islamic State extremist known as “Jihadi John” was killed Friday in an airstrike, said Jane Kinninmont, senior research fellow at Chatham House in London.

Airstrikes on Islamic State "won’t combat the ideology, but it would also be too simple to say that a more pacifist foreign policy would curb such movements," she said.

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