By Patrick BAHZAD
"Lord, give me, what you got left.
Give me what nobody asks for.
I want danger and restlessness,
I want storm and fighting,
And I wish for it, Lord,
Once and for all".
French Paratrooper Prayer
Five months ago, Paris was hit by a series of simultaneous terror attacks the likes of which it had not seen before. Initial reactions by the French government were characterized by a long forgotten belligerent tone, which probably also bore testimony to the disbelief of the French people at the sight of these attacks in the nation's capital. France had entered a new phase in the struggle against Jihadi terrorism, just as Brussels would a few months later in a follow-up attack. The West has no choice but to brace itself for this type of events. In Europe, but also in the US, despite better protection through natural as well as man-made defences.
For now though, we must go after the individuals who were behind the attacks, even if they are hidden in some shadowy basement somewhere in the Middle-East. Getting to them however will not be an easy task and will involve more than just following up on the bread crums left by the footsoldiers who were sent to do the dirty work. Understanding how things got to the point we're at today, is also part of the process. That is the rationale for this piece, which will look into lessons that can already be taken from what happened and analyse what kind of threats are out there, before turning to the individuals who might possibly have ordered the attacks and for what purpose.
Arrests were made, but this is far from over
In truth, a number of people involved in these gruesome killings were already taken into custody and charged, particularly the much talked about Salah Abdelslam, brother to one of the Paris suicide bombers and driver to three men who blew themselves up outside the “Stade de France”. Considered a crucial piece in the European terror puzzle, Abdelslam managed to avoid capture for almost four months, before being arrested by Belgian police in March 2016, in what seems to have triggered his accomplices’ decision to organise the Brussels bombings.
Contrary to what many headlines suggest however, it’s highly unlikely that he’s anything like a ringleader or logistics expert. He may still hold some vital information nonetheless, in so far as he stood at the junction between various cells within the IS network. And while Abdelslam’s role as well as other aspects of the ongoing investigations were widely publicized, in particular the alleged use of encryption tools by the terrorists, other pieces of information have gone mostly unnoticed, even though they have much further reaching implications.
In the last two weeks however, a couple of articles and open source pieces were published that give some insight into the search for the real “masterminds” behind the Paris attacks. The Jamestown Foundation for example published an interesting piece about the men who pulled the strings ("Recent Attacks Illuminate IS' Europe Network"). So has French Intel newsletter “TTU” ("Abou Souleiman: l'émir français de Daech").
However incomplete and fragmentary, these pieces are asking the right questions and provide some good insights. Of particular interest is the role allegedly played by a French national in the planning and organisation of the attacks, a man whose executive position in the "Islamic State" would be quite uncommon for a European. But before getting there, it's important to look into how IS terror developed over the past years and what can be already be learnt from the recent attacks.