Paris, Beirut and Baghdad: ISIS’ appetite for global destruction
“If they see an opportunity they will strike outside Syria, ISIS has a global battlefield”
The busy hum of Parisian nightlife was tragically shattered on Friday evening as gunshots and explosions pierced the cool evening. In a number of coordinated, simultaneous attacks on the French capital -- the worst since World War II -- 129 people were killed. ISIS quickly claimed the attacks who, over the last 16 days have carried out two other deadly international attacks, which some warn could be the start of a new deadly international phase for the militant group.
As well as the attack on Paris, early on Friday, an ISIS militant blew himself up at the funeral of a pro-government Shiite fighter in Baghdad, killing at least 18 people and wounding 41. The group also claimed responsibility for downing the Russian passenger jet over the Sinai peninsula on October 31, and just the day before the Paris attack, the group claimed the most deadly bombing in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, since the start of the Syrian civil war.
As dusk was gathering in Beirut’s Shiite majority area of the diverse southern suburb of Burj al Berajneh on Thursday evening, two explosions tore through the busy street. “I was one of the first people to arrive [at the site of the blast], people were carrying the wounded and dead,” explains local resident Hussain at the site of the explosion.
Hussein says the powerful second explosion – meters further along the street than the first – had torn through the crowd gathering after the first blast. “There were tons of people here, it was terrifying,” he recalls. The two blasts in Beirut killed at least 46 people and left more than 239 wounded.
Since the start of Syria’s civil war there have been a number of bombings in Lebanon. Many of these have targeted strong Hezbollah supporting areas -- the powerful Shiite Lebanese paramilitary organization -- in retaliation for the group’s support of the embattled Syrian president.
However, Thursday’s was the first explosion in the capital since June 2014. Residents of Beirut are now concerned about a return to the situation previous insecurity which saw eight bombs explode in 12 weeks at the end of 2013.
In Abu Ali’s falafel shop, located one street from the blast site, customers discussed the bombers and their intended targets. “There were no (Hezbollah) fighters killed,” Abu Ali says, shaking his head. “It was all women and children.”
There was a palpable feeling of shock and sadness in Beirut following the blasts. That grief was compounded when news of the attacks on Paris broke while Lebanon was still observing a day of mourning.
Haxie Meyers-Belkin, a journalist for FRANCE 24, was on the scene of one of the attack on La belle Équipe as the scenes in Paris unfolded. “There was a palpable sense of panic and confusion and we were there as reports from other attacks came in, everyone knew that killers still on the loose. It was very much unfolding crisis she explains. Meyers-Belkin says everyone seemed aware it was something big happening but it took a while to understand just how much disaster had been wrought.
In the wake of the attacks in Paris, there has been an international outpouring of sympathy and sadness with communities around the world coming out in support of the French people. Meanwhile in Paris, Meyers-Belkin explains that the mood is one of sadness and grief, but that people had come to the streets to feel a sense of community and togetherness. This, she says, France does well in the face of tragic events, refereeing to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January. “There is a somber mood punctuated by real outpourings of grief as people cry and shout,” she says. Meyers-Belkin adds that people feel that this was, “A targeted attack on French society, it was an attack on progressive young Paris — The victims were of all colors, all backgrounds and all nationalities as were those who came to the vigils.”
It is still too early to talk about the origin of the attackers in Paris or Beirut explains Dr Edwin Bakker, Director of the Centre for Terrorism and Counterterrorism of Leiden University in The Hague. That said he believes that past experience will tell us a lot about the most recent attack in France. “My bet is that most of the attackers were born and raised in France and hardly ever left the country and that one or two did, not three or four.” Bakker says he’d be concerned if that was not the case as it would be very bad news for the reputation of the French secret service with all the surveillance powers they have at their disposal. “I would also be uncomfortable as it goes against all my research,” explains Bakker.
Bakker highlights how the long established tactic on the ground in Syria and Iraq by which ISIS aggressively attacking any group that confronts them has now gone global. “In the last 10 days or so, three major opponents of ISIS have been attacked – Hezbollah, Russia and now France” explains Bakker. Adding that this is despite the three having very different political stances and views on ISIS. “ISIS are simply striking out at everyone who attacks them,” says Bakker.
From Beirut to Paris to the Russian Metrojet Airbus, it is now clear that ISIS have an appetite for global destruction.
“The thing that these three attacks all have in common is that they have local handlers and local people [to carry them out]. As long as ISIS exist and they have some power to direct and support people they have the most important tool – local people wanting to do these horrible things for them. That is a powerful asset and they seem to have that in abundance whether that’s in the Sinai, Lebanon or Europe,” says Bakker.
On Saturday evening, Secretary General of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah gave a speech to supporters in South Beirut. He took the opportunity to denounce the attacks on Paris and highlight his groups roll on the ground in Syria fighting against ISIS. Bakker is already looking to the geo-political implications of the Paris attack saying that we might see a coming together of different groups in the battle against ISIS. France has been one of the strongest and earliest opponents of Assad regime, but Bakker says that this attack could serve as a way to bring U.S., Russia and Europe closer together.
Many are now worried about further attacks on opponents of ISIS, as in Syria and Iraq the group already has a very explicit policy of attacking any group that stands against them. “They have a very clear system and policy,” says Bakker, “If they see an opportunity they will strike outside Syria, ISIS has a global battlefield.”
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