Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Terror attack in Paris

The offices of "Charlie Hebdo", a magazine that had previously sparked controversy by publishing cartoons satirizing religious figures (including the Muslim prophet Muhammad), came under attack shortly before noon Paris time.

At least two masked gunmen apparently armed with AK-47 or similar weapons opened fire inside the offices and killed several journalists, the receptionist and a visiting economist. Nearly a dozen others were wounded. A policeman assigned to guard the building was also shot and killed in what appears to be a planned and coordinated attack. The gunmen were heard to shout "Allahu Akbar" ("God is great") during the assault.

They sped from the scene in a black Cirtroen vehicle, and encountered at least two police patrols where they exchanged gunfire. After colliding with another vehicle, they abandoned their car and fled near Porte de Pantin. Their whereabouts are unknown as of 2:30 pm EST.

This event differs from recent "lone-wolf" or spontaneous attacks in several ways. It was an assassination to be sure, but one that played out in a very public way. In the age of camera phones and constant CCTV surveillance, they knew their images would be broadcast for all to see.

It is quite likely that the assailants received military-style training either overseas in places like Iraq/Syria/Afghanistan, or by trainers with that kind of experience. They were also well-equipped with weapons and ammunition, and their selection of targets and the taking out of the policeman indicate the building had been under surveillance. They also had an escape plan and took pains to leave little evidence. This type of operation also requires adequate funding.

While no direct link to ISIS or AQ has been made, we are clearly witnessing the evolution of new terrorism tactics - more refined than Mumbai in 2008, and a move away from the bombing attempts which have had limited success since Madrid 2004. Drive-by shootings were a common tactic among militants in Iraq over the last decade.

As these shooting attacks happen with more precision and speed, having a response plan becomes even more imperative for both potential targets and the authorities.