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Attack on Paris: what you need to know about the terrorist assault on the French capital.

On the night of November 13, Paris was rocked by a series of coordinated terrorist attacks that killed at least 129 people and injured more than 350. It was the worst bloodshed on French soil since World War II (1939-45).

The brunt of the massacre took place at a concert given by the U.S. rock group Eagles of Death Metal. Gunmen with assault weapons stormed the concert hall, firing into the crowd and taking hostages. Suicide bombers and shooters struck several other sites, including restaurants and outside a soccer stadium.

The attacks came less than a year after terrorists in Paris killed 16 people, including 12 at the office of the satirical French newspaper Charlie Hebdo (see "Terror in Paris," Upfront, Feb. 23, 2015).

Here's what you need to know about the attacks and what they mean for France, the U.S., and the world.

1 Who was behind the attacks?

The terrorist group ISIS immediately claimed responsibility. ISIS (the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) is a radical Sunni Muslim group that has taken over large parts of Syria and Iraq since 2014 and imposed strict Islamic law. ISIS has beheaded several Western journalists and Christians and used a sophisticated online campaign to recruit tens of thousands of fighters to wage jihad (holy war).

Authorities say three teams of terrorists carried out the Paris attacks. Seven attackers were killed that day, either by their own suicide bombs or by French police. Most of the suspects were either French citizens or had grown up in France or Belgium. The attacks are the biggest that ISIS has carried out in the West.

2 Why wasn't the plot detected?

American and European intelligence officials thought ISIS was planning an attack in France but didn't have specifics. "We did not have enough information to take action to disrupt it," one official said.

France has had trouble keeping tabs on would-be terrorists within its borders. ISIS and other groups have had success recruiting in the ghetto-like suburbs of Paris, where many of France's 5 million Muslims live. There's high unemployment and deep resentment at feeling segregated from the larger society.

Europe's migrant crisis is complicating the security situation: Hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing the war in Syria, have flooded into Europe in recent months. News that one of the bombers may have entered France through Greece, along with the migrants, seemed to confirm fears that terrorists could be slipping in undetected among the refugees.

3 Is ISIS a bigger threat than we thought?

The U.S. and its allies have long treated ISIS as a group whose primary goal is to conquer territory and impose Islamic law; it wasn't seen as a global threat. In fact, in an interview that aired hours before the Paris attacks, President Obama told ABC News that "we have contained them" in Iraq and Syria.

The Paris attacks weren't, however, the first inkling that ISIS has broader ambitions. Just a couple of weeks earlier, ISIS claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt, which killed all 224 people aboard.

But the Paris attacks were "a game changer," in the words of one senior American intelligence official, who adds, "This clearly shows ISIS is ... capable of carrying out large-scale attacks outside Iraq and Syria. There will be a greater sense of urgency in how we go about trying to combat these kinds of attacks."

4 How has the world responded?

The global outpouring of sympathy for and solidarity with the traumatized people of Paris was immediate--as were offers of help from world leaders.

But the response quickly went beyond grief and words. French warplanes bombed the Syrian city of Raqqa, where ISIS is based (see map). And the U.S. stepped up its own attacks, striking a convoy of ISIS trucks in Syria that were carrying oil. ISIS controls oil fields in Iraq and Syria and uses the money from the sale of that oil to fund its operations.

"France is at war," French President Francois Hollande told reporters. "But we're not engaged in a war of civilizations, because these assassins do not represent any. We are in a war against jihadist terrorism, which is threatening the whole world."

5 Will the U.S. send troops to Syria?

The U.S. already has 3,500 troops in Iraq. But the Obama administration, wary of getting bogged down in another Middle East ground war, has long opposed sending large numbers of troops to battle ISIS.

Obama's handling of ISIS and national security is now certain to be a major issue in the 2016 presidential race. "Once you've gotten a place like Iraq under control, you don't withdraw, which leaves an incredible vacuum and allows for the development of things like ISIS," Republican candidate Ben Carson said after the Paris attacks.

Whether or not Obama shifts his ISIS policy, says Matthew Olsen, a former director of the National Counterterrorism Center, the attack on Paris "increases pressure on the U.S. and the West to respond more aggressively."

With reporting by Jim Yardley, Katrin Bennhold, Michael D. Shear, Adam Nossiter, Michael S. Schmidt, Peter Baker, and Eric Schmitt of The New York Times.
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Title Annotation:INTERNATIONAL
Author:Smith, Patricia; Majerol, Veronica
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Dec 14, 2015
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