The slaughter of the satirists in Paris on Wednesday, executed in the name of radical Islam, is but one scene in the nightmarish reality that Western intelligence officers had been dreading since the war in Syria became a jihadi lodestone.
It is not yet clear if the brothers Chérif and Said Kouachi, the alleged murderers, or their accomplice Hamyd Mourad followed the well-traveled path from Europe to Syria and back. Assuredly, though, the events in that war-torn country, and the rise of the Islamic State inside that territory, played a role in the midday killings at the Charlie Hebdo offices in central Paris.
The Islamic State, US President Barack Obama said in September, is neither Islamic nor a state. “It is a terror organization, pure and simple. It has no vision other than the slaughter of all who stand in its way.”
Perhaps, but the ideology of slaughter that has radiated out from within that self-styled “caliphate” has vast implications for Islam, for Muslims, and for Western societies.
The focus of radical Muslim groups, according to many researchers, is foremost a battle for supremacy within Islam on Islamic soil.
The emphasis of global jihad organizations “is still primarily internal,” said Yoram Schweitzer, a researcher with the Institute for National Security Studies in the field of international terrorism and a former head of the Israeli army’s global jihad anti-terror section.
Earlier this month he and other researchers at the INSS think tank in Tel Aviv published a survey of suicide attacks carried out by radical Islamic groups. Over the course of 2014, the researchers found, there was a 94 percent rise in suicide attacks as compared with the previous year. The vast majority of the 382 bombers carried out attacks against Muslims. The campaign against the West, he said, “is still fermenting.”
In a November speech, Col (res.) Yigal Carmon, the head of the Middle East Media Research Institute, a US-based watchdog, and a former adviser on terror to the prime minister, addressed himself to an examination of IS’s goals.
If al-Qaeda sought jihad against the West when it was at the helm of radical Islam, he said, the Islamic State in contrast seeks firstly to convince Muslims to return home and, once there, to “open the gates of hell.”
He said Iran — not Paris, Jerusalem or New York — was the primary interest of these groups.
And yet the barbarism of the attacks, and the success of the Islamic State within Syria, has undeniably sent tremors into Europe.
An IS-affiliated website last week published a video in French in which “the brothers and sisters of France” were called to action, primarily to join the Sunni jihad in Syria, according to a partial transcript published last week by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center.
Those denied the right to travel by the authorities were ordered to wage war locally — “to set France on fire” and “to crush the heads of the infidels.”
The events that have ensued in France are dreadfully reminiscent of those seen in Israel – with do-it-yourself vehicular attacks, stabbings, and Molotov cocktails followed by well-researched and coordinated strikes.
The slaughter in the 11th Arrondissement in some ways resembles the assassination attempt against Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick in Jerusalem in late October; in both cases the “offense” was the violation of something holy to Islam and in both cases the target was watched, followed, and eventually ambushed.
Operationally and legislatively Europe may be forced to take measures. Col. (res.) Reuven Ehrlich, the head of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information center, has closely followed the identities of those who have traveled to fight in Syria against the regime of Bashar Assad. Unwilling to relate specifically to the Charlie Hebdo murders, he said that France and England were at the top of the list of countries that had sent volunteers to fight in Syria, and that, while European countries have taken strides to curb terrorism at home, there was “still a lot to be done in terms of intelligence, legislation, and international cooperation.”
Psychologically, the task of coming to grips with the struggle – one that Hillary Clinton in an interview with The Atlantic saliently likened to the global war against Communism – remains, despite the gruesome evidence, a Herculean endeavor.