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Damaged caused to the Le Carillon, one of the restaurants attacked last night. Steve Parsons/PA Wire/Press Association Images

'To kill so many people, so deliberately, in such a short time shows determination and training'

This will not be the last such attack in France or elsewhere in the EU, writes columnist Tom Clonan.

LAST NIGHT’S ATTACKS in Paris follow a sequence of similar attacks on French citizens this year.

In January, two French passport holders Cherif and Said Kouachi stormed the Charlie Hebdo offices in central Paris and murdered a dozen writers and support staff at the magazine’s headquarters.

The Kouachi brothers used Kalashnikov assault rifles to murder their victims. They opened fire at point blank range and sprayed their victims with automatic gunfire in the confines of a relatively small office area.

Significantly, a number of Charlie Hebdo staff who were present survived. In other words, the Kouachi brothers were panicked and in a hurry. They were not military trained or highly-trained killers.

Hunted down

They had originally stormed the wrong building and subsequently botched their escape – leaving an identity card in their escape vehicle. They were subsequently hunted down and killed in a firefight with French security services at a factory on the outskirts of Paris.

In August, a lone gunman attempted to attack innocent civilians on a Paris-bound high speed train. Armed with a Kalashnikov assault weapon, the attacker was quickly, and miraculously overpowered by a number of US citizens travelling in the same compartment.

Like the Kouachi brothers, the perpetrator, Ayoub El-Khazzani was no trained killer. He allowed himself to be disarmed by unarmed fellow passengers – something that no militarily trained attacker would permit.

A shift?

Friday’s attacks in Paris mark a significant step-change in both the profile of the attacks and the profile of the attackers themselves. To begin with, the perpetrators used both Kalashnikov assault weapons and suicide vests fitted with power units, detonators and high explosives.

There was also a large number of attackers acting in a coordinated and planned way.

Paris attacks Steve Parsons Steve Parsons

To arm and equip such a large group of terrorists – eight dead, several more unaccounted for – would require a supply ratio of at least 3:1.

In other words, from our knowledge of terrorist networks and their operations – much of it gained from our experience of the Provisional IRA during the Troubles – there will be a network of at least 20 people involved in coordinating, controlling and providing logistical support for the latest Paris attacks.

Cars would have to be procured – preferably stolen – to ferry the attackers to and from their targets. These vehicles would likely be hidden in a multi-storey car park or some similar location close to the central  11th arrondissement.

The weapons – military grade Kalashnikovs, mostly likely AKMs – would then be supplied with sufficient ammunition to allow an attack of a long duration.

Similarities to Mumbai 2008

Friday’s attack was unusual and differs from other mass shootings in the west in the lengthy duration of the attack in the Bataclan Theatre and elsewhere. It was a sustained, high intensity attack with no panicking or jamming of weapons on the part of the attackers. In some ways, it resembled the Mumbai attacks of 2008.

Paris attacks John Walton John Walton

The fact that high explosives – of military grade – was used in the attacks suggests that the perpetrators were not only highly trained and skilled in the use of automatic weapons, they were also willing and able to use high explosives to devastating effect.

This would involve a knowledge of how and in what way – outward facing in crowded area, preferably with walls or other barriers to concentrate and amplify the blast effects – to kill the maximum number of civilians.  It would also involve a suicide propensity that is associated with  hard-line radicalised Islamists.

Eyewitness accounts from the Bataclan theatre and elsewhere report that the attackers engaged in what the military term ‘deliberate’ shooting. In other words, weapons were not fired on automatic mode – where they are likely to jam.

They were fired in single shot mode at selected targets – people – and with a carefully calculated aiming point. In other words, the victims were gunned down methodically, execution style. This was reported and corroborated by several different eyewitness accounts.


Eyewitness accounts also reported that the attackers calmly re-loaded several times during the attacks. In doing so – without being attacked or overpowered during this pause in shooting – the attackers were obviously acting in mutual support and suppressing fire – classic military style tactics.

The attacks were also carefully timed to diffuse and dilute the French security response. To allow a greater amount of time in the ‘kill zone’. Hence the unusually high death toll. To kill so many people, so deliberately, in such a short time speaks of a level of determination and training associated with a terrorist organisation growing in strength and confidence.

As a consequence, this will not be the last such attack in France or elsewhere in the EU.

Islamic State and their affiliates have shown a fast learning curve in mounting such attacks. They will see this operation in Paris as a stellar success and will be emboldened to repeat the exercise. It will also encourage copy-cat attacks elsewhere.

Ireland is among those states that needs to sit up and take notice of the lessons learned by all sides in Friday’s horrific killings.  Terrorism is here to stay.

Dr Tom Clonan is a former Captain in the Irish armed forces. He is a security analyst and academic, lecturing in the School of Media in DIT. He is also an Independent candidate for Senate-TCD Panel. You can follow him on Twitter here.

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