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Paris attacks show terrorists are growing more sophisticated in their deadly plans
John Brennan, CIA Director
By Steve Bittenbender
Last Friday’s series of terrorist attacks in France were carried out a by group that had military-level special operations training and showed a level of organization that has not seen for many years. That’s according to government officials and terror experts who have been assessing the events that killed 129 people and injured hundreds more.
“When I think about what happened in Paris, clearly there was an effort that was under way for quite some time that was fairly sophisticated because of the nature of the attacks in terms of their simultaneous nature,” CIA Director John Brennan said Monday at the Global Security Forum held by the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Anthony Roman, a counter-terrorism expert, said the level of planning needed to execute the attacks, which occurred at several venues in and near the French capital, required planning that had not been seen since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the United States. It required months of observations to identify sites and their vulnerabilities, he said, and it required logistical support to map out the best routes for attack and escape and to determine the time it would take law enforcement and first responders to arrive.
Roman, founder and CEO of the global investigation and risk management firm Roman and Associates, added that how the terrorists attacked showed they received a high level of training and technical assistance. For instance, as they attacked restaurants and bars one gunman would shoot while another reloaded, a maneuver typically associated with Army infantry training.
“That requires training, discipline and a cool head,” Roman said.
In addition, the suicide vest bombs wore by the attackers also displayed a high level of sophistication. The bombs used TATP, an acetone peroxide explosive. The crystal powder explosive gives off a chlorine smell and is susceptible to heat, friction and shock. They were not amateur made, Roman said.
“It’s not the kind of thing you can read a book and successfully make it the first time,” Roman said. “You’d blow yourself up.”
Because of that level of sophistication, Brennan said he believes ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attacks, would continue seeking targets and planning new strikes. “I would anticipate that this is not the only operation (ISIS) has in the pipeline,” he said.
In the wake of the attacks, Roman said French officials have carried out 150 raids. Those have led to more than 100 people being placed under house arrest and another 23 under full arrest. The raids also have netted large quantities of weapons, including high powered machine guns.
However, with at least 250 known jihadists living in Paris and more than 1,700 in Europe, it is a difficult task to know the whereabouts of all those individuals, Roman said.
One of the attackers had been tracked by authorities, Roman said, but he was later downgraded from the watch list to a list of suspects because officials felt others presented a higher risk
“The French intelligence authorities simply don’t have the manpower, the police simply don’t have the manpower and military intelligence simply doesn’t have the manpower to track every single one of them full-time,” Roman said. “And that’s where the problem is: They have to pick and choose who are the ones most likely and at high risk to carry out this type of attack.”
Another issue is the treatment of Middle Easterners in France. Both Muslim immigrants and even those who are native-born citizens are likely to be disenfranchised in Paris and other major cities in the country, Roman said. Not only does that lead to opportunities for terror cells to recruit members sympathetic to their cause, it also hurt intelligence gathering because few are willing to report activities or cooperate with authorities investigating leads and events.
“They’re not assimilated into mainstream French communities either socially or economically and don’t have the opportunities to climb the economic ladder as they do in the United States or in England,” Roman said.
The series of attacks at six sites in Paris was the third terrorist incident either carried out or attempted in France since the beginning of the year. In January, 11 people were killed at the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical publication that had recently published a drawing of Islamic prophet Muhammad. Three months ago, hijackers tried to overtake a train bound for Paris, but those attackers were thwarted by passengers, including two members of the U.S. military.