Today's Headlines and Commentary

Today's Headlines and Commentary

By Elina Saxena, Cody M. Poplin
Monday, November 16, 2015, 6:42 PM

A string of attacks across Paris late Friday night left at least 129 dead and 352 wounded. The attacks began late Friday evening into early Saturday morning and occurred in six locations, largely concentrated in the 10th and 11th arrondissements of the city, with one attack located in a stadium just north of Paris. In total, eight of the attackers died, seven killed by detonating suicide vests.

Three bombs exploded outside the Stade de France at around 9:20 pm, where a friendly match between French and German soccer teams was taking place. French President François Hollande was evacuated from the stadium while the second half of the game continued. Once the game ended, fans flooded the pitch before being evacuated calmly. The Wall Street Journal provides a play-by-play of the tense moments during which Hollande was informed that his nation was under attack at the very stadium where he was standing, and then quickly decided that it was best to let the football game continue and to keep the fans in the stands, instead of flooding onto the streets where more militants could be waiting (they were). The decision, the Journal notes, may have saved many lives. Three attackers died at the scene when they detonated their explosive belts.

Three restaurants in the 10th and 11th arrondissements were also attacked by gunmen between 9:20 pm and 10:00 pm, and French sources suggest that one of the attackers was killed on scene.

At the center of the attacks, four gunmen armed with AK-47s stormed the Bataclan concert hall and began shooting into the crowd at around 9:30 pm, barely one hour after the sold out show by the American group “Eagles of Death Metal” began. After executed dozens of concert-goers, the gunmen took the rest hostage at around 10:00 pm. One gunman was reportedly heard telling hostages in fluent French that "it's the fault of Hollande, it's the fault of [the French] president, he should not have intervened in Syria". The violence ended when French security forces stormed the hall at around 12:15 am, leaving all four attackers dead after three blew themselves up and French forces shot the fourth. Vice News published a timeline of events.

In remarks made Saturday morning, President François Hollande declared that ISIS had committed an “act of war” against France. Hollande then promised that “France, because it was foully, disgracefully and violently attacked, will be unforgiving with the barbarians from Daesh,” another name for the Islamic State. According to the New York Times, the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks on Saturday, referring to them as “miracles” in a statement released on Twitter. The group pledged that these attacks would be “the first of the storm.” Following the first attacks, a number of Twitter messages showed ISIS supporters celebrating the attacks.

A visibly shaken Hollande first addressed the nation as the crisis unfolded. France quickly declared a state of emergency for the first time since 2005 and instituted border controls. The Washington Post reports that, “taken together, the assaults represented the deadliest day of attacks in France since World War II and one of the worst terrorist strikes on Western soil since Sept. 11, 2001. The city was put on lockdown with a curfew in place for the first time since the Nazi occupation. As Paris and the world come to grips with the horrifying carnage, the New York Times writes that “Parisians have remained defiant and united” and that “hundreds of Paris residents were lining up to donate blood and looking for other ways to help.”

The attacks have also been met by an outpouring of global support. President Barack Obama declared that “this is an attack not just on Paris, it's an attack not just on the people of France, but this is an attack on all of humanity and the universal values that we share,” stating that “once again we've seen an outrageous attempt to terrorize innocent civilians.” President Obama was joined in his condolences and support by other U.S. officials including Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of State John Kerry, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter.

In addition to the United States, Russia condemned the attacks and expressed solidarity with France while Iranian president Hassan Rouhani cancelled his trip to Paris and spoke strongly against the acts. British prime minister David Cameron offered his condolences. Germany has offered France support from its anti-terror units.

The attacks in Paris will no doubt have widespread repercussions both within France and at a global level. In France, Marine le Pen, right wing politician and leader of the Front National, has called for the reinstatement of definitive border controls, foreshadowing a potential move to the right as the country embraces stricter security measures. A Syrian passport found near one of the assailants has led many to conclude that at least one of the attackers was of Syrian origin and had passed through Greece in a path taken by many migrants and refugees now in Europe, but a French official told reporters that the passport was a fake.

While Europe continues to grapple with the aftermath of Paris, talks concerning the refugee crisis have shifted to consider security concerns as opposed to humanitarian needs, with many European officials “calling for even stronger border controls, stricter screening of those arriving and some way to persuade people to stay in the Middle East.” Buzzfeed News writes that the likely backlash against refugee and migrant populations fleeing to Europe will be a second victory for ISIS, which has referred to those who flee Iraq and Syria as traitors.

Leaders from over a dozen countries met in Vienna Saturday to discuss a political solution to the Syrian crisis. The New York Times suggests that the Paris attacks will add urgency to finding a solution. French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived in Vienna Saturday, declaring that “it is more necessary than ever in the current circumstance to coordinate the international fight against terrorism.”

World leaders also met at the G-20 conference in Antalya, Turkey this weekend. The meeting was largely consumed by the recent events in Paris, and speaking from Antalya, President Barack Obama announced that the United States would “redouble” the U.S.-led military campaign against the Islamic State. On the sidelines of the meeting, President Obama met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, where the two agreed on a broad outline for the process of resolving the Syrian conflict. The Wall Street Journal comments that the White House’s tone has been noticeably “less critical” of Russian actions since the meeting. Even so, the Journal notes that no one should expect a dramatic overhaul of the United States’ strategy in the region, with Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes telling reporters, “we don’t believe that U.S. troops are the answer to the problem.”

But France is responding with more force, and in response to the attacks; the country has launched a string of airstrikes against the Islamic State, targeting the group’s stronghold in the city of Raqqa. French strikes were aided by American intelligence about ISIS positions in Syria. In the coming weeks, French officials have announced plans to triple the number of French aircraft over Syria’s skies. Hollande, on Monday, declared that “France is at war against Jihadi terrorism” and in words that echoed former U.S. President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks in New York, vowed to “eradicate terrorism.”

While the United States will offer American military support, the Journal added that "French and North Atlantic Treaty Organization officials said Paris is unlikely to formally bring NATO into the response to the attack, either by calling a formal consultative meeting or by evoking collective defense provisions." Foreign Policy writes that “the attacks in Paris prove the Islamic State is overdue for eradication.”

During a joint session of parliament, Hollande also revealed that “he would table a bill to extend the state of emergency declared after the attacks for three months and would suggest changes to the constitution.” The proposed constitutional update would create “a new status short of all-out war in which exceptional powers can be handed to police.”

A Brussels neighborhood, called Molenbeek, is at the center of a police search “for a suspect believed to have been critical to” the Paris attacks. According to the Journal, at least 30 people from the neighborhood have gone to Syria. The French interior minister said that “the terrible attacks that were directed against us on Friday were prepared abroad by a group of individuals based in Belgium.” A suspected mastermind of the attack, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, is still at large. Abaaoud is also suspected of being involved in failed plot in Belgium earlier this year. An anonymous French official told the Times that Mr. Abaaoud mentioned plans to attack “a concert hall” to a French citizen, who like Abaaoud, had returned from Syria. The official also said that Abaaoud had been in contact with at least two of the attackers, Ismael Omar Mostefai and Ibrahim Abdeslam. At least four of the attackers were French citizens.

French officials said Monday that they had conducted 168 raids across the country as they look to root out potential terrorist cells in hiding. 23 people have been detained while another 104 are under house arrest.

In a video released Monday, the Islamic State warned that countries involved in Syrian airstrikes would suffer similar attacks to those in France. Washington, D.C. was among several cities threatened in the video. As international actors work to coordinate efforts, some 48 rebel groups in Syria joined together in denouncing the Islamic State and the attack on Paris, and pledged to continue the fight against terrorism which, they said, "is represented by the Assad regime and its puppet Da’ish [IS]."

The Economist writes that “what has clearly greatly increased Europe’s vulnerability to such attacks is the continuing civil war on its doorstep in Syria and the emergence of Islamic State (IS) as an even more potent magnet for would-be jihadists than al-Qaeda (AQ).”

The Atlantic noted a possible shift in the group’s strategy, writing that “ISIS has never before conducted an operation on such a scale in Europe, though the past month has apparently shown the organization projecting violence further and wider than it has ever done.” As the Islamic State turned its attention towards the West, Brookings’ Dan Byman suggested that ISIS has erred in deciding to globalize its strategy.

Updates on the latest from Paris can be found at: the WSJ, the BBC, the Guardian, le Monde.

And, as Paris comes to grips with Friday’s attacks, nine have been detained in connection with the bombings in Beirut which killed 43 people and injured more than 200 on Wednesday.

Elsewhere, fifteen Sudanese migrants were killed at the border between Egypt and Israel. The circumstances of the shootings remain unclear, but the Times suggests that Egyptian security personnel might have been involved.

The Kurdish victory in its initiative to retake Sinjar has revealed the the destruction left by the Islamic State. ISIS captured the city some fourteen months ago.

Pentagon officials believe that U.S. strikes killed Abu Nabil, the ISIS leader in Libya, with a spokesman commenting that “Nabil’s death will degrade ISIL’s ability to meet the group’s objectives in Libya, including recruiting new ISIL members, establishing bases in Libya, and planning external attacks on the United States.” The Islamic State’s presence in Libya has grown, with militants having consolidated control over central Libya. A recent report from the United Nations suggested that “all sides in Libya's multiple armed conflicts are committing breaches of international law that may amount to war crimes, including abductions, torture and the killing of civilians.”

In Israel, an Israeli father and son were shot and killed when a gunman opened fire on a car near Hebron. Two others were wounded in what Israeli officials called an act of terrorism. Israeli forces killed two Palestinian gunmen who had attempted to prevent the demolition of a jailed militant’s home in the West Bank. Almost 100 people have been killed in the most recent wave of violence across the country.

As Afghan forces continue to face rising threats from ISIS and Taliban militants, Reuters tells us that “at least 65 Afghan soldiers have defected to the Taliban, taking their weapons and equipment with them and 88 have been killed in days of heavy fighting in the volatile southern province of Helmand,” though Afghan security officials disputed the report. Across the Durand Line, Pakistani airstrikes killed seventeen suspected Taliban militants near the country’s border with Afghanistan.

The Associated Press reports that “Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy was stripped of his lawmaker status and parliamentary immunity Monday, paving the way for his arrest in connection with a defamation case that the opposition says is politically motivated.” The move has given rise to fears of possible violence in the “politically volatile nation.”

Ukraine is poised to move its artillery back to the east of the country if fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists escalates.

The Pentagon announced on Sunday that it had transferred five Yemeni detainees from Guantanamo Bay to the United Arab Emirates. There are now 107 detainees left in the detention facility. A defense official told the New York Times that there are as many as 17 other proposed transfers on the table.

Parting shot: Throughout the world this weekend, monuments were bathed in the French tri-color. In Egypt, officials went a little further, lighting the Pyramid of Khufu with the flags of France, Russia, and Lebanon, all of whom have lost citizens in attacks launched by Islamic State fighters in recent weeks.

ICYMI: This Weekend, on Lawfare

Bobby alerted us to the horrific attacks in Paris.

Timothy Edgar suggested that France needs a 9/11 Commission-style investigation given the lack of intelligence on the attacks prior to their taking place.

Daniel Severson looked at the expansion of French Police powers in light of the attacks in Paris.

Ashley Deeks asked if France will turn to international institutions in response to the attacks.

Kenneth Anderson expressed solidarity with France, sharing excerpts from the wartime diary René Char, a poet and member of the French Resistance during the Second World War.

Jack explained why President Obama should seek Congressional approval should he decide to increase the use of force against the Islamic States following the Paris attacks.

Bobby took a look at the nature of armed conflict between the United States and ISIS.

Fergus Hanson discussed the norms of cyber war in peacetime in the latest Foreign Policy Essay.

Cody posted the latest edition of the Lawfare Podcast, which features Assistant Attorney General for National Security John Carlin.

Ken Anderson reviewed David Bosco's 2014 book, Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics.

Bobby highlighted the NDAA's consideration of cyber issues.

Ben posted the "Incubus of Plague" edition of Rational Security.

Zack Bluestone posted the latest Water Wars, in which he discusses the Chinese President Xi Jinping’s recent diplomatic offensive in the region.

Cody provided the The Week That Will Be.

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