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ISIS never leaves anything to chance

ISIS never leaves anything to chance

15.11.2015 • France •

Knowing how jihadists operate, their choice of targets and their schedule must have been carefully thought through.

First of all, to talk about “barbarians”, however justified, is simply not enough, though the series of attacks in Paris and nearby Saint Denis left over 130 dead and nearly 350 wounded. . One must wonder about the date, the hour and the place. Why on that particular day, and why precisely here?  Terrorists almost always choose places and time very carefully. ISIS jihadists are no exception: they leave nothing to chance.

Saying this may sound commonplace. But however chocking it may sound, it is important to keep in mind that those acts of terror have some “rationality”, horrendous for sure, but still, a form of rationality.

Their gaze “was mad”, explained a survivor of concert venue Bataclan to 24 hour news channel BFM. “They were killing machines, (…), acting in a cool and methodical way, without any hesitation in their gestures. (…) They were on a mission. Everything was thought through, everything was planned”.

We are probably starting to understand at long last that we, too, are at war on our own territory, and that our enemy commits terror acts of urban guerrilla with tried and tested methods and means, military and psychological know-how, thus hoping to destabilize the French state and spread fear throughout the country. How do we know this? From their thought through and precise choice of targets. Though experts usually prefer to remain elusive, they have long known this aspect of things very well.

Though most of information is still missing, here are some possible clues:

1. The Stade de France

Was the President of the French Republic targeted by the suicide-bombers who blew themselves during the France-Germany football game? After all, in the eyes of ISIS, François Hollande is a warlord, leading the armies that fight jihadists in the Sahel region (Chad, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso) as well as, since September, in Syria. He is also the man who orders bombings in Iraq and Syria, as well as extra-judiciary executions against jihadists in the name of “collective legitimate defence”, to quote official terminology.

Thus, during the night from 8th to 9th October 2015, we bombed a camp in Raqqa where members of ISIS were training to later strike on French and European grounds. It is said that, in that camp, France more specifically targeted Salim Benghalem, 35 years old. Born in Cachan (Southern suburb of Paris), he was known to play a key role in the training of jihadists of French and francophone origins. Friday night’s attacks in Paris may have been partly motivated as retaliations for these operations.

Still, it is highly possible that the jihadists may not have known with certainty of the presence of President Hollande at the Stade de France, as it might have been a last minute decision on his part. The goal was most probably to cause maximum death inside the stadium, but the 3 suicide-bombers obviously failed to get inside among the public and detonated their belts outside the venue.

On the other hand – and this is what ISIS says in its statement on the morning of 14th November-, this game was targeted because it brought together  “Germany and France, two crusader countries”, thus contextualizing these attacks within the violent history of the relations between Christianity and Islam, and therefore, giving violence a legitimacy. What’s more, as suggests sport editor Yannick Cochennec, “and encounter between Germany and France, for a French public, that’s the top. And of course, it also sends a strong signal in terms of security before the 2016 European Cup”.

2. Concert venue “Le Bataclan”

According to former anti-terrorism judge Marc Trévidic, the fact that a rock concert venue was struck is not really surprising. He says that in mid-August this year, he had to deal with a member of ISIS who “admitted” that “he had been asked to hit a rock concert, to organize an attack during a rock concert… he did not yet know exactly which place would be chosen”

But why the choice of Le Bataclan? Because of its geographic location, which makes it easily accessible, though right in the centre of Paris? Is it because it can house over a thousand spectators? Could this venue have been targeted because it has welcomed support meetings for Israel and therefore was in the eye of either anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian groups who criticize Israel’s policy in the occupied territories? And what about US rock group Eagles of Death Metal, who were playing on Friday 13th November? A group that refused to cancel its tour of Israel, this summer, despite cultural boycott calls.

3. The shootouts in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris

Several shootouts targeted restaurants, their terraces or the areas near-by in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of Paris: Le petit Cambodge, rue Bichat, and Le Carillon, 18 rue Alibert, both places in the 10th arrondissement, then La Casa Nostra, rue de la Fontaine au Roi (5 people killed) and La Belle Équipe, rue de Charonne (19 people killed) in the 11th arrondissement. Why those restaurants in these specific areas? The point, of course, is to cause an effect of mass and saturation to spread panic among people and security services.

Is it a way of life that is targeted, that of a young, white, Bobo, hipster bourgeoisie who loves to get together over the weekend to flirt and chat around a drink in places sought after by people who enjoy having fun? Have the jihadists targeted an area where there is a bit more social and ethnic diversity than on the left bank or in the western part of Paris, in an attempt to increase the existing polarization of French society exactly where that was less the case. It is likely this was their goal, as the desire to drive a wedge between different communities, between “crusaders” and Muslims, is what fuels this form of terror. Still, there are other possibilities.

For instance, it is said that one of the restaurants is only 300ms away from our Prime Minister’s home, a way to personalize/customize the threat, something that public opinion is not necessarily aware of. Every time, the attack fits neatly within French political and social geography, though it may be in ways that elude us…

Last but not least, there is La Belle Équipe restaurant, located rue de Charonne, a street whose name reminds Algerians and Franco-Algerians living in France, of the 8th February brutal police repression that took place at the Charonne Métro station. On that day, though it was forbidden, there was a demonstration against the Algerian war and the far-right paramilitary movement OAS. When running away from the police, demonstrators who were mostly Algerians, rushed into the Métro entrance to seek shelter. Eight of them died, from skull injuries or suffocation. This is one of the bloodiest pages in the history of French colonisation in Algeria, which the authors of the 13th November attacks must have known about, albeit from a victimhood point of view.

4.Place de la République and Boulevard Voltaire

Most importantly, these attacks took place in an area located between the Place de la République and the Boulevard Voltaire. This is exactly where, 10 months ago, on 11th January 2015, worldwide TV cameras gathered to broadcast the vision of about 50 head of states walking, in solidarity, alongside François Hollande. International public opinion was then discovering with admiration the way how several million French responded to the attack against Charlie Hebdo: in silence, recollection, and with the subversive dignity of a republican march for peace.

The places are the same but now the pictures are the colour of blood and darkness. The sounds of gunshots, explosions, ambulances sirens, screams and cries have taken over from quietness.

Let’s not forget that ISIS war against us is also a war of images. On Friday 13th November, ISIS wanted to erase from our visual memory the images of solidarity of Sunday 11th January, and replace them with images of fear and devastation. Again, a totally professional job.

5.Friday 13th November 2015

Last but not least, there is the date of these attacks – Friday 13th, of course, will say those who have not lost their sense of irony. These attacks also happened on the eve of Saturday 14th November, day of the meeting in Vienna (Austria) of over 20 countries invited to think about a political transition for Syria, as well as before the G20 meeting in Antalya, Turkey, right next to Syria, scheduled for Sunday 15th and Monday 16th due to gather the heads of state and governments of some 19 countries.

ISIS has taken the lead again and imposed itself on the agenda of these 2 major international meetings. France’s counter-attack is to keep hosting of the COP21 Conference in Paris.

None of these explanations has actually been established, to the exception, probably, of the rock concert venue – a place of perversion, depravity and idolatry according to ISIS ideology. Still, this should not prevent us from considering all these possibilities while keeping in mind that one should avoid over-interpretation.

The choice of targets might also have been informed by practical considerations, like easier access, withdrawal or escape.  Such expediency may have prevailed over everything else too, with justifications being produced afterwards.

Nevertheless – but who would remember? This Friday 13th also marked an anniversary: a year ago, the French Parliament passed a law that strengthens all the means to fight terror. This happened on 13th November 2014. This was exactly a year ago, to the date, before this gruesome 13th November 2015 that no legislation of any kind was able to prevent. For the French state, the ultimate humiliation.

Ariane Bonzon

Translation: Laurence Mazure

Photo: DR

Original version in french: Daech déteste le hasard (dates back to 14.11.2015)


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