Islamic State has now managed to carry out terror attacks in three locations in less than two weeks — the Sinai (where it brought down a Russian passenger plane), Beirut (where it carried out twin bombings in a Hezbollah neighborhood) and now Paris.
Nowhere, it would appear, is off limits. And nowhere is protected.
Russia, Arab states, Western states and even rival Shi’ite extremist groups are targets for its radical Sunni terrorism.
And it is managing to operate even as it comes under heavy assault in Syria from Russia, the US, the Kurds, Arab states, and the Shi’ite axis of Iran, Hezbollah and Bashar Assad’s Alawites. Indeed, it is unsurprising that it has shifted the focus of its activity to distant locales as it comes under attack in Syria.
In its claim of responsibility for the Paris bloodbath, Islamic State set out further intended targets: Rome, London and Washington DC. These may be empty threats. Not because IS is incapable of action. Rather because, as the Paris carnage shows, when Islamic State does attack, it doesn’t talk a lot about it beforehand.
It may be that the sheer scale and horror of the Paris attacks will prompt a certain awakening in Western European states, which have been failing in the battle against Islamic State. Establishing the kind of terror network required for Friday night’s multiple coordinated attacks did not happen overnight. That there were at least eight terrorists involved, with weapons and explosives and suicide belts, acting in concert, points to a stark failure by Western intelligence, which ought to have been able to get wind of the planned onslaught. First reports indicate that at least one of terrorists was on a French intelligence watch list.
Nevertheless, the fact is that the European intelligence community is facing an almost impossible task. The failure was not only this weekend, but in the many years past. Parts of Europe have, over the decades, been allowed to become entirely Muslim areas, utterly neglected by the intelligence services — and neglected economically and socially. Areas like these provide recruits to the ranks of Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And some of these recruits, it would seem, are then ordered back to Europe, to set up sleeper cells and await the call for terrorist action.
That may turn out to be what happened Friday night in Paris.
It is not going to be easy for the intelligence agencies to penetrate these terrorist networks. Simultaneously, the US, Russia and the Arab world cannot agree on how to most effectively tackle Islamic State on the battlefields of Syria. So long as that remains the case, Europe is all too likely to remain under terrorist fire.