A strategic shift in the terrorist threat to France

A strategic shift in the terrorist threat to France

The 13 November attacks in Paris are part of a wider shift in Islamic State’s global strategy. The tactics used and the nature of the targets underline a growing security threat in France.

Since the beginning of the Syrian conflict, there have been growing fears over the creation of safe havens for Islamist militants and their support networks in the northern suburbs of the Paris. The high number of French nationals having left the country to fight alongside Sunni militant groups in Syria and Iraq also raises concerns over the potential blowback caused by their return to France.

While all these specifics were part of an ongoing security trend in the country, the 13 November attacks in Paris mark a strategic shift in the threat faced by the capital. This major revolution in the local security environment is based on three main points.

A shift in IS global strategy

Since its rapid territorial gains began in June 2014, IS has focused on expanding its area of influence by achieving territorial victories.

Offensive operations in Syria and Iraq, as well as in the Sinai Peninsula and the Libyan area of Sirte, underscore IS’s objective of clearing and holding specific regions. This is carried out in an attempt to use those regions as staging areas for further offensives as part of a wider nation-building project.

The July and October 2015 mass-casualty bombings in Turkey, which left 33 dead in Suruc and 102 dead in Ankara, marked a shift in IS global strategy. The militant organisation is increasingly seeking to carry out large-scale spectacular attacks, such as the downing of Metrojet Flight 9268 in Egypt on 31 October, the bombing in Burj al-Barajneh on 12 November, and the wave of attacks in Paris on 13 November.

These mass-casualty attacks underscore that IS will to conduct global operations outside areas in which the group can control territory. These acts of terror are mainly aimed at achieving propaganda victories amid a period of increased military pressure on IS territory in Syria and Iraq.

As such, the 13 November terrorist attacks exemplify a new a core change in IS strategy.

An evolution of the tactics used

French military officials have stated that the 13 November attacks represented a maximal use of force.

IS militants willingly chose to escalate their attacks against France beyond a point of no return. This was achieved using skilled fighters that carried out a complex and highly coordinated attack against multiple targets in a limited period of time within the French capital.

President Hollande defined the 13 November attacks as an act of war. Indeed, by analysing IS tactics, the wave of attacks in Paris highlight a shift from small-to medium-scale attacks to a full-spectrum combat operation.

IS issued a statement calling for additional attacks in France. Given the major security measures implemented by the French government, it is unlikely that complex terrorist attacks may be successfully carried out in the near future.

An expansion of the target base

While the European tactics of IS changed on 13 November, the perpetrators’ target acquisition was also revolutionised.

Up until the Paris attacks, IS-linked militants targeted specific groups that could mainly be identified as part of three segments of the French population: members of the Jewish community, members of the country’s security forces and members of specific civil society groups.

On 13 November, however, the sole goal of the attacks was to maximise the number of civilian casualties. The objective of the attack went from being limited to a single category of targets to assuming an absolute scope. The combination of a revolution of the tactics used and the chosen targets marks a clear escalation of the IS offensive plan in France.

Looking ahead  

For the French security environment, this major spillover of the Middle Eastern conflict into Paris comes as a stern reminder of the growing threat posed by terrorist activities in the country and throughout the EU.

At this point, the large security deployment in Paris and throughout France is likely to make it more difficult for militants to conduct additional major terrorist attacks in the short-term. However, there is a high risk that single assailants may try to emulate the 13 November attacks by carrying out lone-wolf attacks that may involve shootings, stabbings, and/or car-ramming.

This situation threatens the overall security and stability of France. As regional elections near, it is likely that voters will increasingly turn toward right-wing nationalists in a bid to opt for tighter security in the country. This would lead to a further weakening of the centre-left government.

Socio-political strains may also spiral into a surge of communal tensions leading to attacks against migrant camps, migrant hosting centres, and French Muslim personnel and interests. As observed after the January 2015 terrorist attacks, these incidents are unlikely to generate a wider risk of exposure to violence, but would contribute to a deterioration of French social and political stability.

Categories: Europe, Security

About Author

Riccardo Dugulin

Riccardo Dugulin is an analyst at Drum Cussac, a global business risk consultancy. He specializes in supporting international organizations and large corporations operating in emerging markets by providing them with critical risk management intelligence. His regions of expertise are the Near East, the Gulf, North Africa and Continental Europe. He previously worked as project manager for a French medical assistance company. He gained field experience in the Middle East having worked for leading think tanks in Dubai and Beirut. Riccardo holds a Master in International Affairs from the Sciences Po – Paris and a Bachelor in Middle Eastern Studies from the same university. Follow him on Twitter @RiccardoDugulin.