The Brutal Paris Terror Attack

As horrific as the Paris terror attack was, it was not a sophisticated operation engineered by some diabolical mastermind. It was a low-tech, brutal assault that has distracted from a more important debate how to give young, disaffected Muslim men more reason to live writes ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

A strong tendency in the wake of major terrorist attacks is to associate the impact the event has on our own fears and thoughts (which generally are correlated with the number of Westerners who died in the incident) with the level of skill and sophistication of the attackers. The skill and sophistication in turn tend to be thought of as associated with the size and strength of some foreign organization that sponsored the attackers.

These presumed associations are false. The plain (and after such incidents, disturbing) fact is that the inherent vulnerabilities in our free and open Western societies are such that it does not require any noteworthy skill or sophistication to kill a lot of people. What it takes are extreme inclinations and a willingness to die in pursuit of malevolent ideas.

Peace for Paris symbol.

Peace for Paris symbol.

The terrorist attacks in Paris illustrate the point. Some organizational aptitude was needed to put together an operation that involved simultaneous dispatch of multiple attack teams, but this did not require organizing any more people than would be needed to put together a neighborhood soccer team.

The death toll for all of the Paris attacks, as shocking as it understandably was, nonetheless was much less than a more skillfully conducted operation involving a comparable number of attackers would have inflicted. The attack team that went after the most target-rich location, a sports arena with tens of thousands of people, managed to kill only one other person besides themselves. The spraying of bullets in crowded places such as cafes or concert halls is not a high-skill endeavor, especially when the shooters have resigned themselves to being killed as well.

Jack Shafer at Politico, who criticizes mainstream media for giving alleged attack organizer Abdelhamid Abaaoud too much credit by labeling him a “mastermind,” observes that earlier failed shooting attacks that Abaaoud was suspected of being behind “took about as much imagination and skill as ordering a pizza.”

Shafer also has done the math to determine that the Paris terrorists inflicted fewer deaths per attacker than did one deranged individual at Sandy Hook Elementary School. That is an apt comparison given the nature of the counterterrorist task that the FBI and other U.S. authorities currently face in trying to prevent mass-casualty attacks in the United States.

Americans attempting to travel to ISIS-controlled territory in Syria and Iraq barely constitute a trickle: an average of only two persons a month since July. Battalions of radicals traveling to and from the ISIS mini-state clearly are not the core of any threat to American security.

As a New York Times article about these patterns aptly puts it, “thwarting an Islamic State-inspired attack in the United States” is “less like stopping a traditional terrorist plot and more like trying to prevent a school shooting.” Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles illustrates the same basic point in another way.

As debate rages on about U.S. policy toward Syria, the debate would be more focused and useful if it could dispense with two persistent misconceptions. One is that being a skilled terrorist requires being sponsored and trained by some organization that occupies a piece of land overseas. The other is that inflicting a lot of casualties in a terrorist attack requires being skilled and trained.

Ian Buruma provides a better insight in explaining why countering ISIS-inspired terrorism is more a matter of giving young men with a death wish a reason to live.

The future of the ISIS mini-state certainly is important for multiple reasons, many of which have much more to do with politics and stability in the Middle East than with terrorism in the West. A terrorist-related reason is that the fortunes of the ISIS enclave help determine how much inspiration it provides to already radicalized individuals and thus is an influence in determining the likelihood of such individuals performing acts that are both suicidal and lethal to others.

It is a mistake to regard the ISIS entity as a font of critical skills needed to kill people.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

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17 comments for “The Brutal Paris Terror Attack

  1. wat
    November 25, 2015 at 14:24

    I wish this article had gone into much more depth about young Muslim populations. I would have really liked some interviews, surveys, and discussion of relative conditions of young Muslim populations in different countries.

  2. Mortimer
    November 23, 2015 at 18:40

    Death Machine / Industrial Medical/Death Complex
    .
    Self-murder Zones under Opium rule
    Lines of nazel romance w/false finance
    of eternal whelps from addiction to a
    false god, which tricked you Into Death.
    for a non-exixtant Cause from Huxley.

    .
    Chemical Giant I.G.Farben collaborated
    in finance of nazi fascism/Hitlerism
    chemical/biological warfare rages in
    commercial foods & Medical Doctors
    and vacines & Imbedded Reporters

    Michael Hastings was FREE LANCE
    Now he’s Dead. EarBuds circumvent
    Reality =’s the false narrative/leading
    to corridors of deathtraps w/out light
    applaud his bravery & mourn his death.

    But recognize what system U’re in
    Us vs. Them been layed out homeless
    Acceptability of sidewalk dwellings
    Has been Approved by the I.M.F.
    Resistance = “misdemeanor” Punishment.

    Chem/Bio weaponry& research
    Dow Chemical/Ft. Dedrick Lab
    Manhattan Project mechanics
    obtained glamor & fame for the
    Harmony of Colliding Atoms.!!!

    Suddenly We know Huxley
    copied Yevgeny Zamyatin
    or Vladimir Nobokov into
    this panopticon reliability
    of Police State functionality.

    Everyday people Die Daily/in
    America Starring Big Pharma
    Don’t take the Meds !!!/
    Think for yourself !!!
    Open the eyes of your Heart.

    Death Blossoms… .

  3. Mortimer
    November 22, 2015 at 17:58

    “One of those arrogant “experts” pointed out on National Public\
    Radio recently that the protection of [“hard” targfets] (such
    as the capitol, White House, monuments etc.) is not foolproof
    but is at least in the range of possibility.”
    .
    As opposed to the soft target of a mid-teen vegetable/
    fruit-for-the-slaughter in the Game LIFE or CAREERS
    composition of Twilight Zone episode # 88 or 378.

    what constitutes a +range of possibilities +?
    entire religions? whole nationalities? is this “God”?
    or the explosion of de-militaration in self-murder zones?

    where Policemen proliferate/prevaricate ghetto
    Situations where truth-of-life ain’t what appears,
    That truth is within accepted life boundries

    Self-murder Zones under Opium rule
    Lines of nazel romance w/false finance
    of eternal whelps from addiction to a
    false god, which tricked you Into Death.
    for a non-exixtant Cause from Huxley.

    • Mortimer
      November 23, 2015 at 11:55

      “where Policemen proliferate/prevaricate ghetto
      Situations where truth-of-life ain’t what appears,
      That truth is within accepted life boundries”
      .

      “Another Paris is taking place in America this very day”: Republicans don’t care about dozens killed daily by guns
      PAUL CAMPOS
      NOV 19, 2015
      http://www.solon.com
      .
      Excerpt

      It’s a grim statistical fact that a Paris-style massacre takes place in America on every single day of the year. It doesn’t happen in one city, or with TV cameras nearby, but on an average day nearly 100 Americans are killed by guns.

      Let me repeat this for clarity’s sake: Republicans are willing to let an apparently unlimited number of children drown to avoid the minuscule risk that letting a few of them and their parents into this country might conceivably lead to “another Paris,” when in fact another Paris is taking place in America this very day, and another will happen tomorrow, and another the day after that, into perpetuity.

      And what do the leaders of the GOP propose to do about our daily Paris-level gun massacre? The answer, perversely enough, is the same one they give to the refugee crisis: Absolutely nothing. Indeed, it’s practically an article of faith for Republican politicians that any effort, no matter how modest, to decrease the number of Americans getting slaughtered by guns on every single day of the year is too much.

      Any restrictions on assault weapons are too much, and any waiting periods are too much, and even barring suspected terrorists who are on no-fly lists from buying guns is too much.

      According to this peculiar moral calculus, it is better, on the one hand, to let a thousand, or ten thousand, or one hundred thousand innocent refugees die horrible deaths, than to take the risk that one American might conceivably be harmed as a consequence of engaging in the slightest gesture of humanity toward the desperate victims of ISIS. On the other, it’s also better to let another Paris happen, right here in America, on this day and every other day, than it is to try to do anything to save the life of even one of the many dozens of Americans who will be killed on this very day by gun violence.

      People who can believe both of these things at the same time are not going to be troubled by any level of cognitive dissonance. Apparently, another name for this state of mind is “the contemporary Republican party.”

      Paul Campos is a professor of law at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

  4. Mortimer
    November 22, 2015 at 13:45

    Meanwhile Israel continues to oppress Palestinians
    on a daily basis. The videos are available daily
    of murder, abuse, home demolitions and.
    But then.. Palestinians are..OTHERS.
    you may not care about OTHERS. They are
    not US!!
    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA
    .
    By historic American analogy, – ‘OTHERS’ –
    lately, are the offspring of H. Rap Brown,
    Stokely Carmichael, Reis Tijeries,
    Huey Newton or Lanada Boyer (AIM)
    and those who formed futile/honest
    “battlements” against oppression in America.

    In Palestine it’s bombs, bullets & blockade.
    In America it’s descendant desecration & deMoralization.

    It’s all the purgation
    of human populations,

    King Leopold’s Congo,
    Extermination/Holocaust

    the denial-of-which labels
    you Anti-Semitic/Un-Christian !

    The 500 year anthropology
    discredits the ages of BC

    when Ismael & Issac
    were sons of 1 father.

    What is time eternal
    but 1 continuous loop?

  5. David Smith
    November 22, 2015 at 11:53

    Mr Pillar, your Control Officer back at Langley would have nixed this one. The purpose of Opaque Langley Word Sludge is to stupify the mind of the reader by making use of Words Without Referents to construct a tangled word thicket immune to analysis, confusing the reader without their awareness of being confused, leaving them open t’o autosuggestion. Stealth Tendentiousness,is it not? Your Control Officer would remind you that the thesis statement should never be explicable. It is too obvious here that the thesis statement is Paris Is Not A False Flag Because Muslim Terrorists Can Barely Order Pizza On Their Own. Not that it matters really, after all WW3 is in the bag, who cares if the peasants smell danger, nothing they can do anyway……..after all that’s what peasants are for(snicker). To Zachary Smith: You are spot on, in fact the Muslims have their own name for Meggido. A one donkey town by the name of DABIQ, Iraq. The glossy magazine published by ISIL/ISIS/DAESH is titled, you guessed it, DABIQ……what more do you need.

  6. Mortimer
    November 22, 2015 at 10:17

    —After 9-11, it seems there was an entire Neocon ” war on terror” industry eagerly waiting in the wings to exploit the attacks on our soil,using the attack as a kind of “shock and awe” to catalyze us onto a “war footing” —

    The backbone of “ISIS” are Sunni former government employees and military officers/soldiers that all entered the rolls of the Unemployed in one-fell-swope by Viceroy Paul Bremer in 2003.

    These folk, living fruitful lives under Saddam had been cut off from a standard of living into a state of unknown dissonance — in street parlance, they were suddenly and without recourse, “Kicked to the Curb.” The disruption to family life & structure had to be horrifically devastating.

    This is the background, the casus belli of the ISIS furor. The children of those 2003 dispossessed soldiers/workers are now the teens and young adults being Paid by ISIS leaders to fight against the “Civilized World” which tore apart the stable, productive lives they’d known before 3/19/2003.

    They follow guidelines set forth in “The Management of Savagery” and are willing to strap on the BombVest and sacrifice life — so great is the anger within them.

    The GWOT Industry is a carefully managed construct of fascistic hearted capitalists who’re driven by a passion for World Control. — Reading Kagan & Kristol is a revelation of foundational principles fostering the SoleSuperPower ideology.

    Did Bremer make a tactical error in disbanding the entire Iraqi governing body? Or was it a calculated design to wreck/discombobulate the Entire Social Order of a Sovereign Nation in order to to Purposely Incite National Chaos among the people? (Cause & Effect)

    If the original plan was to create A NEW MIDDLE EAST,
    what could be a more provocative Catalyzing Event… ?

  7. alexander
    November 22, 2015 at 07:46

    Dear Mr Pillar ,

    We may need to learn a lot more about the timing, planning and strategy of the attackers before we can make a determination of the degree of “expertise” (or lack thereof) of those behind the attacks..

    After 9-11, it seems there was an entire Neocon ” war on terror” industry eagerly waiting in the wings to exploit the attacks on our soil,using the attack as a kind of “shock and awe” to catalyze us onto a “war footing” , overthrow the constitution, and extract trillions of tax dollars to prosecute fraudulent wars of aggression against countries that didn’t attack us.

    Given the fact the United States, since 9-11, has operated at an annualized deficit of nearly 900 billion dollars, whereas in 1999 we were operating at a 250 billion dollar “surplus” , the 9-11 attacks proved to be a “super lotto jackpot” for the most totalitarian minded , anti-constitutionalist, warmongers amongst us, and a nearly 19 trillion dollar sink hole of debt… for the rest.

    If “Osama Bin laden” was indeed behind the attacks in the first place, which at one point I believed with the same “vigor” I believed Saddam was an “Imminent threat”…then he has certainly done “nothing ” but visit enormous suffering on the tens of millions of innocent people in the middle east he “supposedly” stood for, ….and has done “everything” for the 1% at the top of the “totalitarian’s for terror industry’s” food chain who he supposedly was “at war” with…

    Why is that ?

    American largesse has conferred trillions upon trillions of dollars from our balance sheet into “their” bank accounts. How they must bless the (nonexistent )grave of Bin Laden everyday.

    Nobody could love terrorism, terrorist attacks and terrorists more than they do .

    Certainly the “Paris attacks” timing and exposure will function in the same “catalyzing “way, not merely for Europe but also in the United States toward what our renewed “priorities” should be in the next election cycle coming right around the bend.

    Terror timing…for terror talk..terror politics…..terror funding…..and terror profiteering…

    How convenient…

    Will the United States be 50 trillion dollars in debt…will there be 50 million innocent people dead,…before we wise up to the crass cycle of perpetual war manipulation that the Paris attacks, like 9-11, have re-unleashed ?

    I doubt it.
    .

    But in the meantime perhaps we need to re-think how ” amateurish” this attack in Paris really was, Mr Pillar, given the trillions in terror profits those whose industries thrive on it, …will likely gain?

  8. Babe
    November 22, 2015 at 07:29

    Let’s not forget that these terrorist attacks (if they weren’t false flags) are effects, that have causes. And I’m still wondering, watching the whole picture, if they weren’t actually accomplishments of a mastermind’s wishes.

  9. Peter Loeb
    November 22, 2015 at 06:57

    SOFT OR HARD TARGETS?

    One of those arrogant “experts” pointed out on National Public\
    Radio recently that the protection of “hard” targfets (such
    as the capitol, White House, monuments etc.) is not foolproof
    but is at least in the range of possibility.

    Protection from terror attacks in “soft” targets such as
    cafes, restaurants, shops, concert houses, athletic events
    and the like is all but impossible. (In the case of a major
    attack, not a minor incidents.”.)

    I agree Daniel Lazare’s assessment as I done previously
    in my comment to Lazare’s own article, elsewhere in
    Consortium, I believe yesterday’s issue.

    Paul Pillar’s point that the Paris attack was essentially
    “low tech” is well taken.

    The comparison to a school shooting is most apt.
    If Muslim’s are not involved these do not fit into any
    “clash of (Muslim-Christian) civilizations”. Traditionally
    these attacks are blamed on mental health problems
    or racial tensions. Perhaps there are those who
    advocate tracking ALL those with mental problems
    or perhaps all members of minority groups. Those
    who may be unahppy with life as it is are potentially
    “dangerous”. Societies could develop ways to detain
    them without charge.

    Cleary the above suggestions are facetious. It is
    not only organizations which protect civil liberties
    which are in the center, but more importantly the
    very fabric of the life all of us wish to experience.

    As long as “terror” is blamed on OTHERS—Muslims,
    blacks etc.—the public can be demigogued into
    believing that this will provide them (non-members
    of OTHER groups) with the safety we knew as
    children etc.or imagine that we knew.

    The reality is that most of us will never experience
    attack, death, or injury but many will have to face
    an existence that 100% protection will never be
    possible. Unless of course you never go out and
    are satisfied to remain in perpetual lockdown where
    you live….

    Meanwhile Israel continues to oppress Palestinians
    on a daily basis. The videos are available daily
    of murder, abuse, home demolitions and.
    But then.. Palestinians are..OTHERS.
    you may not care about OTHERS. They are
    not US!!!

    —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA, USA

  10. Zachary Smith
    November 22, 2015 at 01:45

    As debate rages on about U.S. policy toward Syria, the debate would be more focused and useful if it could dispense with two persistent misconceptions. One is that being a skilled terrorist requires being sponsored and trained by some organization that occupies a piece of land overseas. The other is that inflicting a lot of casualties in a terrorist attack requires being skilled and trained.

    It seems to me that Mr. Pillar is attempting to focus the reader on the utility of “training” for Skills and Killing Efficiency. There is another issue to consider – why they’re willing to throw away their own lives at a young age.

    That aspect of the “training” may be connected with fanaticism – and in this case, religious fanaticism.

    At the Saker site I found this piece:

    http://thesaker.is/what-is-daeshs-endgoal/

    I’ve known for some time that there has been a Protestant movement to try to ‘arrange’ the Second Coming of Jesus. In fact, this effort can be dated back at least two centuries. I presently believe that people in that movement were instrumental in allying with the earliest Zionists to recreate Israel. Their greatest achievement was issuing and enforcing the “Jewish homeland” edict during and after WW1. Only recently did I learn that there is a similar “end times” movement” among the Jews. Destroying the Muslim Al-Aqsa Mosque is of course a necessity, for that’s where the Third Temple must be placed.

    To make that work out here is a world-wide hunt on for a red heifer – a virtual ‘holy cow’. If one is found (or created by modern means) it’ll be sacrificed in the approved manner, its blood will be sprinkled all around, then the whole carcass will be ritually burnt and strange things done with the ashes. All this will serve to purify the site of the nasty contamination of the Muslim temple and what other defilements the site may have. I understand that the crazy Jews are already preparing and stockpileing the building materials for their temple. Needless to say, fundie Christians are cooperating with this, for THEIR “end times” scenario requires that Third Temple too.

    According to the Saker link, the Muslims have a comparable movement. The author believes that the insane provocations of the French, Russians, and anybody else they can reach means (for the ISIS terrorists) the Final Battle will be fought against all the infidels, and naturally they’ll win.

    This is really loopy stuff, and in my opinion destroying the Saudi schools around the world who brainwash the kids from infancy is the only real way to eradicate the Muslim Fundies. The Russians are mighty P.O.ed about their airliner, and the Saker predicts that a lot of wealthy middle east Princes are about to meet an untimely end. That would be a good start.

    What to do about the Christian and Jewish “end times” nutcases is a problem for which I don’t have an answer.

    • Joe Tedesky
      November 22, 2015 at 02:41

      Religion and war, should never go together, but they most always do. One would think that after all these thousands of years, that fighting war with religious motivation, is like a dog chasing it’s tail. Most religions at their root preach goodness, and love, so where does the war come in. Clever, preaching is being done in all religions, so beware of the one sermoning from the pulpit.

      In so far as the terrorist attacking America, or Europe, first ask, just who are these terrorist. So far, it looks like these attackers, are European homegrown. I’m reading of how ISIS has slick commercials, that lure in the disenchanted young Middle Eastern decent young adult. Should we at least not ask, what Western life means to them? Ask yourself, what would it take for you to strap on a bomb? Can religious belief do this? Can living conditions to this? Could losing old country relatives to drone attacks do this? Take note, that these young ISIS fighters, are the 9/11 generation. Oh, and remember their Muslim.

      • Joe Tedesky
        November 22, 2015 at 10:58

        Ask your self, why was a whole religion blamed for 9/11? Why didn’t we just blame Osama bin Laden? Why not just say the attacks were carried out by al Queda? Who has the biggest bone to pick with the Muslim religion?

    • Jerry
      November 22, 2015 at 22:03

      Mr. Smith, your thoughts have been anticipated by television. Please see “Dig” http://www.imdb.com/title/tt3597606/?ref_=nm_flmg_act_7. “Peter, an FBI agent stationed in Jerusalem who, while investigating a murder of a young female archaeologist, uncovers a conspiracy 2000 years in the making.”

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