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Paris Attacks' Scale Underscores Global Threats

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Bakı, 14 noyabr 2015 – Newtimes.az

The sophistication, resources and scale of Friday’s attacks in the heart of Paris underscored to officials across the globe that the challenges of containing extremist violence have reached a new level, and that the calculus of the Western effort against terrorism had fundamentally changed.

European governments in the past few months have sought various means to guard against national security threats, with some erecting barbed-wire fences to stem the flow of migrants, while others, including France, devoted hundreds of millions of euros to strengthening electronic surveillance systems.

Friday’s attacks highlight the weakness of those strategies in a world where global extremism flows across nations. It also raises questions about transnational agreements on open-border travel that have been a bedrock of modern Europe. In his first comments to the nation after the attack, French President François Hollande announced the closing of his country’s borders.

French authorities didn't immediately name a culprit, but the nature of the attacks left little doubt they were the work of a well-organized terrorist group. A French official said Friday the attacks were "unfortunately well-prepared and coordinated.'' The apparent use of explosives and the likelihood that a significant number of people were involved were particularly alarming to U.S. counterterrorism officials.

At the same time, officials in several countries have voiced strong suspicions that the recent downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt was the work of a terrorist bomb. If Islamic State or another terrorist group is blamed for that attack, in addition to Friday’s carnage, pressure could increase to ramp up the war on such terrorist organizations to a new level.

That could include more pressure on Western countries to step up the military intervention in Syria. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization doesn't have a formal role in strikes against Islamic State, although members of the alliance are taking part in the U.S.-led coalition.

The alliance remains divided between countries in Eastern Europe, which want a focus on Russia, and those in the south, which prefer to focus on terror threats from the Middle East and Africa. The attacks in Paris on Friday could prompt the alliance to focus more closely on terrorism, with Syria as Europe’s most urgent threat.

"While we do not yet know who is responsible, this attack has all the hallmarks of Islamic extremist terrorism,'' said Sen. James Lankford (R., Okla.), a member of the Senate Intelligence and Homeland Security committees.

Don Borelli, a former counterterrorism official at the Federal Bureau of Investigation, who now works at The Soufan Group, a security consulting firm, said the threat from Islamic State is particularly acute in Europe and France because of the greater numbers of the group’s supporters there.

"We’re in a better situation than France,'' he said, "but we’re not immune to it, so right now we want to be sure that all the intelligence gathering is firing on all cylinders.’’

The attack, he said, could further the terrorists’ propaganda goals. "Already you see ISIS supporters rallying to this,'' Mr. Borelli said. "And a lot of what governments do in response can be a recruiting tool for ISIS, and it becomes like a snowball rolling downhill, a hugely difficult situation.''

The U.S. is embroiled in a debate over civil liberties versus security, with a controversial National Security Agency program collecting phone data due to expire at month’s end, to be replaced with a less-sweeping program.

The early details on Friday’s attacks – multiple victims at multiple sites, followed by an apparent mass hostage-taking and slaughter – were reminiscent of the attacks carried out in Mumbai in 2008. In that assault, a group of terrorists carried out multiple shootings before taking hostages at a luxury hotel. More than 160 people were killed.

In May, the French Parliament overwhelmingly passed a sweeping surveillance law that had been drafted days after the nation’s first terror attack this year: the January shooting rampage at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, and a separate attack at a Jewish grocery store.

The terrorists responsible for those attacks, who had links to al Qaeda and Islamic State, had been known to French intelligence agents but surveillance on them had been dropped, in part because of a shortage of resources.

French politicians vowed not to have that happen again, and the Socialist-led parliament set aside misgivings about civil liberties to allow the government robust powers to collect bulk data on citizens with minimal judicial oversight.

Since January, France has focused its police and military forces on patrolling the streets of the capital. Indeed, soldiers outside government buildings, embassies, and other potential targets, including Jewish schools, have become a common sight.

U.S. and other counterterrorism officials weren’t convinced such a show of force would be effective against another terror attack, saying that cultivating human intelligence sources within local minority and Muslim communities was better to gaining insight about possible terrorist plans.

The Wall Street Journal

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