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2015 has hardly been a happy year for France.

No sooner had the Twelve Days of Christmas ended when the horrific Charlie Hebdo attack took place. Then Amedy Coulibaly shot a policewoman dead as well as a man at Hyper Casher in the same timeframe. The drama ended on Friday, January 9, with security forces carefully co-ordinating the situation at the printing plant where the Kouachis held the owner — and unbeknownst to them, an employee hiding upstairs — hostage. Coulibaly, holding the kosher supermarket employees and customers hostage, told police he would kill everyone if something happened to the Kouachis. Security forces managed to shoot Coulibaly as well as the Kouachis.

In February, the radical Moussa Coulibaly (no relation) attacked three military personnel in Nice who were guarding a Jewish community centre.

In April, Sid Ahmed Ghlam murdered fitness instructor Aurélie Châtelain. He was the one who wanted to gun down Catholics leaving Sunday Mass. He planned to drive to two churches when he accidentally shot himself in the leg. He was bleeding profusely. He drove his own car for some distance, then ended up ringing the emergency services! Police arrived on the scene and arrested him. I cannot help but think that was providential.

In June, Yassin Salhi beheaded his employer Hervé Cornara in the town of Saint-Quentin-Fallavier near Lyon. Cornara owned a trucking company and took Salhi, a delivery driver, to task for poor work practices a few weeks earlier. On June 26, Salhi tricked Cornara into his van. He struck Cornara unconscious and strangled him. Salhi drove to one of his usual assigned pick-up locations, the local Air Products factory where he was to collect gas cylinders. Just before reaching the factory, Salhi beheaded Cornara. He put Cornara’s head on a fence railing, placed a cloth with an Islamic prayer over it, then attached two Islamist banners nearby. Salhi then tried to blow the factory up by ploughing into some gas cylinders. An explosion occurred and two people were injured. The factory was largely undamaged. Salhi shouted ‘Allahu akhbar’ when he was arrested. When questioned, he insisted that his attack had no religious significance.

In August, the Thalys train attack took place, which I wrote about here and here.

And now, the world has been stunned by the Paris attacks on, hmm, Friday the 13th  — the worst in the city since the Second World War.

What we know on Monday

As I write, 129 people lost their lives. Of the 352 injured, 99 are in critical condition.

At the Bataclan, where the American band Eagles of Death Metal were playing, three of the attackers gunned down 89 people.

Fifteen people died at two targeted establishments across the road from each other, Le Petit Cambodge, a restaurant, and Le Carillon, a bar. In the other shootings, 5 people were killed at the Casa Nostra pizzeria and 19 people at the Belle Equipe bar.

No one died at the Stade de France.

Three cells — one for each set of killings?

French investigators think that Salah Abdeslam, at large, might have co-ordinated all three sets of attacks: at the stadium, at the bars and restaurants and at the Bataclan.

Police say that Salah Abdeslam is highly dangerous and should not be approached. Incredibly, despite strict emergency border controls:

The 5ft 7in tall suspect had slipped through the fingers of French police when they stopped a VW Golf in which he and two alleged accomplices were driving back to Belgium on Saturday morning, and who were allowed to go on their way.

The wanted poster for Abdeslam Salah, wanted in connection with the terror attacks in Paris

Salah, it is thought, rented a Volkswagen Polo in Belgium which was found abandoned outside the Bataclan theatre. One of his brothers, Ibrahim, blew himself up outside the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on Friday night. Another brother, Mohammed, was arrested in a series of raids in Molenbeek, northwest of Brussels, at the weekend.


Omar Ismail Mostefai, 29, was in charge of the Bataclan massacre. He blew himself up afterward. Police identified him by one of his fingers, which lay among the carnage. His father and brother are now in custody for questioning. Police are also investigating whether Mostefai went to Syria in 2014. He committed a number of petty crimes between 2004 and 2010 but was never sentenced to jail. However, he did he have an ‘S’ file, created for people suspected of radicalisation.

Samy Amimour, 27, originally from Drancy, outside Paris, was another attacker involved. He had been placed under formal investigation for ‘terrorist links’ in 2012. He was later placed under judicial control for this reason. In 2013, he breached his judicial control and an international arrest warrant was issued.

Stade de France

One of the three suicide attackers was said to have been in charge of the Stade de France suicide bombings. Two of the men have been identified.

Bilal Hadfi, 20, was Belgian and thought to have fought with IS in Syria.

Ahmad Al Mohammad was another who blew himself up outside the stadium. Reuters and other media outlets have reported that his fingerprints match those of a man who registered himself in Greece in October.

Bars and restaurants

A third attacker probably co-ordinated the bar and restaurant attacks.

The most we know at this time is that Ibrahim Abdeslam, Salah’s brother, blew himself up outside the Comptoir Voltaire restaurant on Friday night.

Overall mastermind?

If Salah Abdeslam co-ordinated everything once the attackers reached Paris, did someone with more experience mastermind the entire operation in terms of planning and designating targets?

Salah’s brother Ibrahim was linked in the past to Abdel Hamid Abaaoud regarding Belgian criminal cases in 2010 and 2011. Abaaoud was thought to be one of the principals behind the Vervier cell, a group of terrorists who returned from Syria earlier this year and were killed by police in a bloody shootout in Belgium in January 2015.

Abaaoud is 27 and from Molenbeek, a mixed community northwest of Brussels which is a hotbed of Islamic radicalism. It is unclear whether he is dead or alive at this moment. Some time ago, his family claim he died, but a report in Libération a few months ago says he might have been involved in the Thalys train attack in August.

In any event, he appears to have made several trips to Syria in 2014 and boasts in IS propaganda how clever he has been at evading police.

IS claim responsibility — an explanation

France’s BFMTV photographed the communiqué in French from the Islamic State (see the 11:48 entry). IS entitled it ‘the blessed attack on Paris against the crossed people’ (les croisés).

Les croisés is difficult to translate. Traditionally, it means ‘crusader’, but it is also used in a general sense of ‘crossed’. By using ‘the crossed people’ I am making the choice to translate it as being closer to the old pejorative term used against Catholics: ‘crossback’.

The ISIS statement reads in part:

Eight brothers carrying explosive belts and assault rifles took for their targets meticulously chosen places to advance to the heart of the French capital, the Stade de France during the match between two crossed countries France and Germany which the imbecile François Hollande was attending, the bataclan [sic] where hundreds of idolaters were gathered for a festival of perversity as well as other targets in the tenth, the eleventh and the eighteenth arrondissement, all these simultaneously.

The communiqué rang true to an article that the French newsweekly Marianne recently published (‘Comment mieux combattre Daech’, 6-12 November 2015 issue, pp. 74, 75). It discussed the rhetoric that IS use and how we can better understand it.

Radical Islam’s greatest enemy are those who practice polytheism. Christians, the ‘crossed’, are among that number for most Muslims — radical or otherwise — as they consider the Trinity to be three separate gods, not the One-in-three Persons.

The article explained that radical Islamists also consider the West’s secular idols as polytheism.

This is how that thinking plays out for IS:

the elites of Daech include in this ‘polytheism’ the cult of ‘tribal idols’ — celebrities, media, athletes — as well as ‘idols of the marketplace’, among which consumer consumption is the primary example, and, finally, those ‘idols of the theatre’ …

According to rhetorician Philippe-Joseph Salazar, such wording is effective with radical Islamists because it characterises today’s materialistic world occupied by les croisés.

Piecing Salazar’s explanation of IS’s interpretation of idolatry together with IS’s communiqué, we see that all targets were hit: the Bataclan theatre/concert venue, the Stade de France as well as cafés and bars.

As IS said, this was to penetrate the heart of France’s capital.

The BBC interviewed a French journalist on Saturday afternoon who said that she was shocked that IS would attack places ‘ordinary Parisians’ would frequent. The Bataclan and the restaurants were, she said, hardly top tourist locations.

The irony is that they were in young, trendy neighbourhoods, populated by what the French call ‘bobos’ — bourgeois bohemians — just the type of people who vote for the Socialists and who have pushed for France to take in more refugees, because it’s a great opportunity for the nation. La chance pour la France, as they so often say.

It’s a great opportunity for wanton death and destruction, that’s for sure.

I now await the next phase in the media’s news cycle explaining away the hatred a small segment of society has for the French people. There will be endless discussions and articles about the suburban poor, their lack of hope, their search for meaning and the appeal for more taxpayer money to be thrown at an intractable problem.

It should be noted that the men who carried out the earlier attacks this year have criminal records, come from dysfunctional households or both. All grew up in single-parent homes. Security experts told BFMTV that, in an attempt to turn their lives around, the radicalised always have a spiritual mentor, someone who takes them to religious and criminal extremes.


At the weekend, I watched the BBC, France24 and BFMTV.

Security experts differed on what to do to stop this terrorist threat. One said that aerial attacks would destroy IS. Another said that ground troops are also necessary, and, as IS know we won’t send them, they feel empowered to attack us.

Another said that such action would not help the domestic threat. In that domain, we need more intelligence analysts to monitor ‘chatter’ and the movements of those who may pose a danger to ordinary citizens.

I do think we will win this war, but many of France’s ‘S’ — ‘security’ — file designations on radicalised individuals need careful review. Several of the perpetrators of attacks this year had ‘S’ files, some of which were not renewed. More need to be renewed than at present.

In the meantime, my thoughts and prayers are with the victims, their families and friends.

Of course, more concrete news will follow once we have it.


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