The terrible news from Paris this morning, where three well organized and trained terrorists attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine, and killed 12 people – including the editor, cartoonist and policemen – then fleeing into the streets of Paris, has raised the specter of targeted and localized terrorist attacks.
While not widely reported in the U.S. media, there have been a number of much smaller terrorist incidents in France over the last few weeks, in which the French Government even deployed military personnel all over the country to help contain these attacks.
Charlie Hebdo has been the focus of terrorist attacks before including numerous threats and a fire-bombing in 2011, after it published a caricature of the Prophet Mohammad. The perpetrators have claimed this latest murderous rampage is so-called “vengeance” for the publication of this cartoon.
What it actually is though, is an attack on free-speech, U.S.-European values and the way we choose to organize our societies.
This attack in Paris is part of a long-list of violent Islamic extremist terrorist incidents that have occurred in Europe since 2011. This has included the 2004 Madrid train attack killing over 190, the 2005 London bombings that killed 55, a March 2012 attack in southern France that killed 7, in 2014 four were killed at a Jewish Museum in Brussels, and in 2013 a British soldier was hacked to death on the streets of London.
Europe’s proximity to the now 4-year civil-war in Syria and the chaos in Iraq has meant that it is more vulnerable than the United States in regard to violent Islamic extremism.
The United States’ security services have been on high alert since 2001 for incidents such as we have seen in Europe, and with the exception of the Boston Bombings by individuals with who seem to have no connection with any wider terrorism groups, they have been successful in keeping the U.S. homeland safe.
But we should be under no illusion, no matter how good our police, FBI, military, intelligence and other related security services are, they can never be 100% successful.
As the IRA stated after the 1984 attack on the British government that failed to kill PM Thatcher: “today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”
We should all be prepared for attacks similar to those that have taken place in Europe. Whether on the localized scale of today’s attack or bigger such as the London and Madrid transport bombings.
This should not mean we change our way of life, or we hide & barricade ourselves at home. When it happens, we should not be looking for scapegoats, and we should not overreact.
It means we should be aware, we should be focused, we should be prepared and we should be resilient.
We should be aware that these attacks can happen anywhere and we should follow the advice of “see something –say something.”
Our security services should be focused against terrorist attacks and wider criminal networks. The police should engage at street-level with the local population to build support and local networks. Our intelligence services should be supported in their focus against these terrorist groups, and especially those that have traveled to join the civil war in Syria and conflict in Iraq. This may mean we have to re-examine budget constraints on the police and national security organizations. This though will need to be matched with wider and deeper Congressional oversight.
We should be prepared to follow the advice of the security services and not panic.
We have to be resilient and carry on with our lives and live of values.