Paris massacre 'not a game-changer,' Islamic terror experts say

Islamist terrorism experts told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the writing was on the wall for the Paris terrorist attack against the French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

January 9, 2015 05:33
3 minute read.
A member of the French GIPN intervention police forces secures a neighborhood northeast of Paris

A member of the French GIPN intervention police forces secures a neighborhood in Corcy, northeast of Paris. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Islamist terrorism experts told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday that the writing was on the wall for the Paris terrorist attack against the French newspaper, Charlie Hebdo.

They said that it should not be seen as a “game changer” in altering the country’s anti-terrorist strategy or foreign policy.

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They suggested that the attack would not have any significant influence on France’s policy toward Israel’s struggle with terrorism, since it sees the Jewish state’s conflict as politically based.

Jean-Pierre Filiu, a professor of Middle East studies at Sciences Po’s Paris School of International Affairs and a long-time French diplomat who served in Arab countries, told the Post that this attack is “no game changer at all.”

“Islamic State is moving according to its operational plan, with the strong asset of the former ‘19th arrondissement network’ strongmen Boubaker al-Hakim, who is trained by the Syrian and/or Iraqi intelligence services, and Cherif Kouachi.”

Filiu, who is a former adviser to the French prime minister and defense minister, explained in an edited book released in October, The Evolution of the Global Terrorist Threat: From 9/11 to Osama bin Laden’s Death, that Cherif Kouachi was arrested in 2005 right before a planned trip to Damascus where he was “supposed to meet a 14-year-old contact at the Damascus airport to buy their weapons, before being smuggled into Iraq.”

The other suspect, Hakim, a French-Tunisian citizen, who reigns from the 19th arrondissement, has a history of involvement in the Middle East. According to Filiu, he volunteered to join Iraq’s forces in 2003, prior to the US invasion.

He had “boasted to French reporters that he was going to ‘kill Americans.’” Ely Karmon, senior researcher at the Institute for Counter-Terrorism and at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Institute for Policy and Strategy, told the Post that he viewed the attacks as “a shock that will have an impact,” but that it may not be felt immediately.

It was clear that French intelligence and law enforcement were aware of the risk of terrorism from its citizens who have sympathies, or traveled abroad to participate in fighting in the Middle East, he said. But they were “slow to take measures to stop Muslims from traveling to fight in Syria and Iraq”.

“And in this case,” said Karmon, “reports indicated that the suspects were well known to French authorities and probably monitored, but they were not able to foil this plot...”

Asked if the attack could mark a change in France’s view of Israel’s battle against Islamic radicalism, Karmon responded that it could increase public understanding for Israel, but the “European establishment sees the Palestinian issue as more of a political issue than a terrorist one.”

Referring to the decision by an EU court last month to remove Hamas from its terrorist list, Karmon said that the attacks in France may help those who want it back on.

Karmon points to the hypocrisy of Iran’s condemnation of the attack. Iran was the country that led the first serious wave of Islamist terrorist attacks against those that were responsible for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

Yoram Schweitzer, a terrorism expert at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, told the Post that he was not sure that the attack is a game changer – its meaning perhaps not as significant as it was dramatic.

The way the attack was carried out, the famous victims and the fact that the execution of a policeman was caught on camera has made it a media sensation.

Asked if this attack represents a turning point for terrorism in Europe, Schweitzer responded that it did not come as a surprise, as Europe had been under threat for some time and knew that terrorists might strike again.

France is taking part in the US-led coalition against Islamic State and was a main player in Mali and in the coalition that attacked Libya and toppled ruler Muammar Gaddafi, so it “understands the risks,” he said.

Asked if the attack could lead to a change in France’s position with regard to its stance on terrorism against Israel, Schweitzer said he does not think this event will “give the political leverage to Israel’s policy vis-à-vis the Palestinians that some people are hoping for,” or significantly alter France’s traditional position regarding Israel’s struggle against terrorism.

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