WASHINGTON, Nov. 14, 2015 – The coordinated terrorist attacks in Paris, coming less than two weeks after the apparent downing of a Russian plane over the Sinai, signals a chilling shift in ISIS strategy. Instead of focusing almost exclusively on creating a caliphate in the Middle East, ISIS is now actively involved in a reign of terror around the world.
The change is not insignificant.
Before Oct. 31, ISIS encouraged followers to carry out attacks, but there was no indication that ISIS leadership planned or coordinated terrorist efforts. Terrorist incidents like the one in Canada in October 2014, the May 2015 attack in Garland, Texas, and even the Charlie Hebdo assault were cheered by ISIS, but not claimed by the ISIS leadership. Instead, ISIS expressed solidarity with the attackers.
The downing of a Russian plane on Oct. 31 over the Sinai and the Paris attacks suggest ISIS is now actively plotting and carrying out attacks against Western targets.
“This is a game changer,” said one active counter-terrorist intelligence official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, “and it is the scenario we have all been worried about.”
ISIS, which has extensive financial resources, stockpiles of weapons and almost unlimited recruits, possesses the capability to unleash major terrorist attacks around the world.
“The precise coordination of the Paris attacks and the fact that the took place without alerting intel…that’s what really scares us,” said the source.
According to U.S. officials and media outlets, militants launched attacks at six separate sites in Paris yesterday, killing at least 129 people and wounding more than 350 others. Officials say attackers opened fire at cafes and a concert hall while others detonated suicide bombs near a soccer stadium.
On Saturday, ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. It posted a statement on Telegram, a social messaging platform, saying it had targeted France because of its involvement in air strikes against the group. It also warned of future attacks.
A translation of parts of the statement provided by SITE says:
Eight brothers wrapped in explosive belts and armed with machine rifles targeted sites that were accurately chosen in the heart of the capital of France, including the Stade de France during the match between the Crusader German and French teams, where the fool of France, Francois Hollande, was present.
[They also targeted] the Bataclan Conference Center, where hundreds of apostates had gathered in a profligate prostitution party. . . . So Paris shook under their feet, and its streets were tight upon them, and the result of the attacks was the death of no less than 100 Crusaders and the wounding of more than those. . . . They detonated their belts in the gatherings of the disbelievers after running out of ammunition.
Let France and those who walk in its path know that they will remain on the top of the list of targets of the Islamic State, and that the smell of death will never leave their noses as long as they lead the convoy of the Crusader campaign, and dare to curse our Prophet. . . . This attack is the first of the storm and a warning to those who wish to learn.
This attack follows the downing of a Russian plane over the Sinai on Oct. 31. ISIS has also claimed responsibility for that attack.
Part of that statement said, “The fighters of the Islamic State were able to down a Russian plane over Sinai province that was carrying over 220 Russian crusaders. They were all killed, thanks be to God,”
Although authorities have not yet definitively confirmed that ISIS was responsible for that attack, U.S. officials say they believe ISIS was behind it. Media outlets have reported that “chatter” from ISIS confirms that ISIS was behind the attack, and that other evidence shows a bomb was on the plane.
The two attacks, coming within only two weeks of each other, are rasiing major concerns among the intelligence community. The concern is heightened by the complexity of the Paris attacks and the apparent ability of ISIS to avoid monitoring by intelligence officials.
Moreover, the successful high-profile attacks only act to embolden ISIS and other militant groups and to attract more recruits.
The attacks also suggest yet again that the military campaign is not defeating ISIS. Despite the involvement of almost every country in the world in the anti-ISIS effort, the group appears able to carry out attacks at will. Because ISIS has spread throughout the Middle East, even a military victory against it in Iraq and Syria is unlikely to end the activities of ISIS.
“Quite honestly, none of us here think this is going to make them go away,” notes the intelligence officer, “They’ll just scurry to Libya or Afghanistan or who knows where else. We need to figure out a better way to defeat this ideology.”
Intelligence officers say that efforts against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban dented the capabilities of those groups but did not end their hold. And ISIS, they say, is much stronger.
The Paris attacks were horrific because innocent people died and were hurt. They are horrific because they accomplished the goal of ISIS, to bring terror and fear to France. They are also horrific because they may presage more attacks around the world. And they are horrific because they remind the West not only of the capabilities of ISIS but also of the inability of even the best intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the world to stop them.