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The trial of the attacks of November 13, 2015 in Saint-Denis and Paris opens on September 8. With the attacks of January 2015, the tragedy which left 130 dead marked the eruption of mass terrorism in France perpetrated by “ghosts”, European jihadists returning from Syria.
The 2015 attacks are part of an effervescent movement of global jihadism. The Syrian Arab Spring, which began in 2011, has turned into a civil war. Over the years, jihadist groups prevailed within the Syrian rebellion and in 2013, the Islamic State group emerged, which aspired to create a caliphate and attracted 6,000 European fighters.
“We did not understand, at the time, that the Syrian crisis gave new vigor to international terrorism and that this time European jihadists were ready to come back to strike Europe to spread the jihad there”, remarks Hugo Micheron * , researcher at the American University of Princeton and lecturer at Sciences-Po Paris.
In the aftermath of November 13, the parallel with September 11, 2001 was often drawn because of the trauma, and the national and international outrage that this triple attack sparked. These attacks, the deadliest committed in France, are then the most spectacular perpetrated in the West since those which targeted the World Trade Center.
“The attacks of November 13 are intended to be the attack par excellence, in the sense that since September 11, 2001, there have been a few major attacks in European countries (those in Madrid in March 2003 and in London on July 7, 2005). , editor’s note), but then, many attacks were thwarted, so that Europe found itself relatively spared. Unlike Bombay, for example, hit by extremely devastating attacks in 2008, ”recalls Hugo Micheron.
From November 26 to 29, 2008, several commandos attacked, in particular, emblematic hotels in the economic capital of India, as well as a train station and a Jewish religious center. “The 2008 Bombay attacks largely inspired the Paris attacks, particularly from an organizational point of view with a paramilitary or apparently military attack carried out by coordinated commandos, in different neighborhoods very far from each other, notes Cyrille Bret **, lecturer at Sciences Po. I would add the use of weapons of war, automatic weapons to strafe the crowd and to take stock of the tens, hundreds of deaths ”.
In both cases, the goal is to inspire terror by targeting places of life, entertainment, emblematic of an open, multicultural and internationalized society. “In Bombay, they are very symbolic targets, especially the neighborhoods and cafes where expatriates congregate, the train station where the middle class transits and the Jewish cultural center which symbolizes the international struggle between radical Islam and other faiths, continues the researcher. In Paris, these are places extremely symbolic of youth and entertainment, the Stade de France obviously, the streets of the Bastille and République neighborhoods and this very special target that is the Bataclan, an international theater. “.
Another common point: the desire to impose on the city the violence of a distant fight. For Bombay, it is the distant conflict of at least 3,000 kilometers in Indian Kashmir that is propelled into the cultural and economic capital of India. In Paris, it is the desire to project in the streets of the French capital the fighting between the Islamic State organization in Iraq and Syria and the international coalition to which France belongs.
However, Westerners in general, and Europeans in particular, will not immediately perceive the Bombay attacks as a model to export. “We saw the World Trade Center towers collapse in 2001; in 2008, I was the first, we did not perceive that these attacks had a terrible impact, that of inspiring other attacks. These Bombay attacks are very explicitly in terrorist literature a source of operational inspiration, “Cyrille Bret still analyzes. “This form of attack was in a way the fantasy of jiihadist groups for several years,” adds his colleague from Sciences Po Hugo Micheron.
Two years after the Bombay attacks, a commando linked to a jihadist group based in Pakistan-Afghanistan is arrested while planning to carry out simultaneous attacks in Paris and Berlin. All subsequent attempts are foiled, until November 13, 2015.
Why could Paris have been targeted by mass terrorism? “Because Daesh had logistical capacities that most jihadist groups had never had: an immense territory, significant financial resources,” replies Hugo Micheron. But also and above all because nearly 6,000 Europeans had joined Daesh. Some were seasoned after going through the jihad in Iraq. It was the Clain brothers who claimed responsibility for the November 13 attacks in France. It was not the Iraqi Daesh command that came up with the idea of striking the Bataclan, the Little Cambodia or the Carillon. In contrast, French people who were born and raised in France might not only have the idea of targeting these targets, but also knew the symbolic significance of these places, because they knew very well the society they were targeting. “
At the peak of recruitment in 2015, French jihadists were the most numerous group in absolute numbers within the Islamic State organization (around 2,000), even if proportionally to the number of inhabitants, it was Belgium that was on your mind.
The first terrorist attack carried out by nationals took place in London on July 7, 2005. The commando which targets the public transport of the capital is in fact made up of British citizens, born in Great Britain. On the other hand, it was in Brussels that the first attack was committed by a “ghost” from Syria. His name: Mehdi Nemmouche. On May 24, 2014, this ex-jailer of the Islamic State group killed four people in the Jewish museum in the Belgian capital.
After the attacks in Paris and Brussels, the sending of terrorist commandos to Europe from Syria became considerably more complicated. “The intelligence services are massively increasing their cooperation and intensifying the exchange of information. Departures to Syria, and even more so returns, are closely monitored. The Amniyat (the intelligence service of the Islamic State group, editor’s note) will favor the remote “piloting” from the Syrian-Iraqi zone of individuals who have not trained there ”, note Marc Hecker and Elie Tenenbaum in La twenty years war (Robert Laffont editions). Then emerges another form of terrorism, qualified as “low cost jihad”, with the use of cars or ram trucks, in Nice on July 14, 2016, in Berlin in December of the same year, then in London and Stockholm. ‘Next year.
If Daesh’s logistical capacity is today largely destroyed and its territorial footprint has disappeared, Hugo Micheron insists: it is necessary to think about European jihadism in an autonomous way, to understand the new dynamics to avoid reproducing the mistakes made there was 30 years old, when “a certain number of veterans of the war in Afghanistan against the Soviets, then veterans of the Algerian GIA, returned to France, gradually spread and set up small ecosystems” which – for some – fueled departures for the jihad in Syria.