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Terror in Paris: Was ISIS Attack A Sign of Weakness?

The opening of 2015 saw Paris afflicted by the horrendous terrorist attacks on the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish kosher supermarket. The closing of 2015 has sadly seen another terrorist attack on the people of the French capital. And this ones death toll and violence dwarfs that one.

It bears the hallmarks of an Islamic State (ISIS) terrorist attack. A well coordinated attack in multiple locations with one aim. The indiscriminate killing of as many civilians as humanly possible. The gunfire and bombs that rocked Paris last night killed at least 120. In the wake of this horrific massacre it is possible to ascertain what motivated ISIS to strike now so ferociously since there is an apt precedent from the summer which may reveal a pattern worth contemplating.

These coordinated Paris attacks likely took some preparation. They were far too well coordinated to be sporadic in any respect. Whether they were cells lying in wait to attack or planning for this particular night has yet to be disclosed. However if it was a response to the recent setbacks ISIS have had in Iraq and Syria at the hands of Kurdish paramilitaries, and the assassination via drone strike of the infamous ISIS executioner “Jihadi John”, then this attack was likely carried out by ISIS to bolster morale among its rank and file.

Late last year ISIS struggled in earnest to crush the Syrian Kurds at Kobani. The longer those Kurds endured the ISIS siege and fought off the numerous ISIS attackers the symbol of defiance that city came to represent strengthened and the greater efforts ISIS made to crush that symbol of defiance. But those efforts were made in vain. The more ISIS members who advanced to attack try and crush Kobani provided more targets for U.S. air strikes which gave the dug-in Kurds there an edge over their besieging attackers (in late 2014 over 70% of the U.S. air strikes against ISIS in Syria were carried out around Kobani). By early 2015 the siege was broken, most of Kobani had become reduced to smoldering ruins, but hadn’t been overrun. ISIS had suffered a setback.

By the summer Syrian Kurdish militiamen, and women, were on the offensive against ISIS and effectively routed them out of the Northern Syrian border-town of Tal Abyad. By doing so they successfully cut off ISIS-occupied territory in northeastern Syria from the Turkish border and by extension the outside world. Making it harder for ISIS to use Turkey as a conduit through which to bring in foreign fighters and weapons and out of which to smuggle oil and stolen goods onto the black market. Both of which had helped fund the group. No small blow. Around the same time ISIS sought to disguise that blow and the prior failure to subjugate Kobani and its residences by launching a bloody massacre on that Syrian Kurdish border-town. Dressed as Kurdish fighters ISIS terrorists infiltrated the urban center and murdered 230 Kurdish men, women and children in a truly grisly massacre. Around the same time the attack on the Tunisian tourist resort at Soussse took place when a lone Islamist gunmen massacred 38 civilians. ISIS claimed responsibility for that atrocity also. By doing so it conveyed to its followers that, far from being boxed in and losing to its Kurdish enemies, it was bringing terror to their homes and also to distant enemies. Something which doubtlessly boosted morale among its rank and file.

Similarly ISIS’s claim to blow up the Russian Metrojet plane over the Egyptian Sinai recently sent a similar message to the group’s followers and members and was aimed at terrorizing both the Egyptian (an Islamist group which has pledged allegiance to ISIS has been fighting a war against Cairo from the Sinai for some time now) and Russian public. The Independent newspaper columnist Patrick Cockburn has argued that its doing so showed a sign of weakness on ISIS’s part since Russia entered the fray with air strikes in Syria in recent weeks.

More recently, in a massive two-day operation ISIS was hounded out of the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq, where they had committed numerous atrocities against that area’s Yazidi community, by the Kurds. One of the main links between two of the most important cities they control, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, has been severed and one of their primary propagandists and star of many a murder video “Jihadi John” was killed in a drone strike. Quite a blow for a single 48-hour period. Headlines about an unprecedented brutal, large and shocking mass-murder in Paris, however, coupled with claims of responsibility on behalf of their leadership could well negate any doubts or second-thoughts among those who make up this terror group that they are prevailing over their enemies.

The mass-murder of innocents in Paris this weekend therefore could well have been a clear sign of weakness on ISIS’s part and, yes, a telling sign that they know they are in fact losing. We can only guess how the aftermath to the Paris attacks will play out in the Middle East.

Photo by Quinn Dobrowski, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

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