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Perspective

Sadly, we’ll likely see more of Paris-like terror attack

 

Friday night’s attacks in Paris were a tragic reminder that with persistence and innovation, terrorists can and do strike their “enemies” at a time and place of their own choosing. It may, unfortunately, be the new normal in countries that, until recently, were thought to be immune or nearly so from such attacks.
What is most disconcerting about the Paris attacks is that while they were clearly well-planned and coordinated, they were also relatively low-tech and simple to carry out, which is the reason is why counterterrorism officials are so concerned.
To conduct an attack such as the most recent one in Paris, terrorists routinely go through a preoperational planning cycle that includes a number of steps to maximise their chances of success.

Risk minimisation and impact maximisation
Among others, those steps include identifying targets that are both easy to attack and most likely to draw wide media attention, determining vulnerable gaps in security that can be exploited at each site, the selection of primary and alternate routes to and from each attack site, and rehearsing those routes.
To do this without having their operation compromised by the French intelligence and security services, the attackers most likely adhered to two principles that al-Qaeda perfected over the years: keeping their operational and support cells to the minimum number necessary to ensure a reasonable degree of success, and minimising or completely ruling out the use of electronic communications.
In the Paris attacks, two points stand out that say something about the operational and technical capabilities of the attackers.
First, there was the selection of multiple targets - all of them considered soft - that were hit in rapid succession. That speaks to a significant degree of preoperational planning and coordination right up until the time of each attack.
Second, there was the use of three different terrorist tactics - suicide bombings, drive-by shootings, and a public venue assault that resulted in the taking of hostages. That speaks to their level of training and technical expertise, especially with the construction of explosive vests.
A third point speaks more towards the level of security provided at Stade de France, where two suicide bombers managed to gain access to a public sporting event where President Francois Hollande was also in attendance.
While there is no public information as of yet to indicate the attackers knew the president would be in attendance, the mere fact that a security gap allowed them access is unacceptable.

Finite resources
While Friday night’s attacks in Paris are shocking, particularly in their scope and lethality, they are by no means surprising to counterterrorism officials in France or most other Western countries.
By some estimates, nearly 3,000 Europeans have travelled to Iraq and Syria or other conflict zones since 2011 to fight and gain experience with various extremist organisations that include the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the al-Qaeda affiliate, al-Nusra Front.
Of the top 10 countries of origin for those foreign fighters, France is ranked fifth with 1,550; Germany and the UK are ranked ninth and 10th, respectively, with as many as 700 each; and the United States with over 250.
Eventually, some of those foreign fighters return home more radicalised and more dangerous than before, but the intelligence and security services of their countries of origin do not necessarily have the information about their level of radicalisation.
That’s particularly true if they weren’t identified when leaving their countries in the first place. But the reality of the matter is that intelligence and security services have finite resources to track and monitor known or suspected terrorist groups or individuals. And those resources have to be managed according to identified threats.
That is to say, intelligence and security services sometimes fail to protect us from terrorist attacks due to unacceptable oversight or mismanagement of those assets. But they have also foiled many more attacks than terrorists succeeded in carrying out.

Questions to be answered
As with any post-attack investigation, the French intelligence and security services will initially focus on identifying the attackers and any accomplices. Who were they? Were they already known to the French intelligence or security services or other countries? Had they travelled to Iraq, Syria, or any of the many other conflict zones that have become hotbeds of extremism? How extensive was their support network? Where did the weapons and explosives come from?
Key to that investigation will be to determine whether the attacks were more grassroots in nature or whether the attackers received instruction or assistance from abroad.
The day after the attacks, ISIL claimed responsibility, although previous claims to such attacks were proven inaccurate in the past. To date, there have been no known terrorist attacks outside of Iraq and Syria by ISIL or in the immediate area of operations of their several affiliates.
However, since ISIL’s initial call to followers worldwide a year ago to conduct simple attacks in their home countries - in which France was specifically named - that message is believed to have inspired a number of such attacks by lone wolves or small cells operating at the grassroots level in Australia, Canada, the US, Denmark and France.
Amedy Coulibaly, who killed an unarmed French policewoman and four hostages in two separate Paris attacks in January 2015, appeared in a video uploaded to Twitter immediately after his death, where he was shown sitting beneath an ISIL flag as he pledged allegiance to ISIL leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Al-Qaeda, on the other hand, has a long history of carrying out successful attacks against their “Far Enemy”, or the West, with the last significant one being the July 7, 2005, suicide bombings against London’s transit system. However, in just the last two weeks, al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has also called on followers worldwide to carry out simple attacks in their home countries.
Last Friday’s terrorist attacks in Paris were horrific, and we mourn for the victims and their families. All the questions will eventually be answered, and a public accounting must be held should it be determined that something could have been done to prevent the attacks.
The citizens of France, not to mention the victims and their families, deserve at least that much. But the sad reality of the terrorist threat today is we are more likely to see further such attacks, not fewer. And that’s what keeps counterterrorism specialists up at night.
Martin Reardon is a senior vice president with the Soufan Group, a New York-based strategic security and intelligence consultancy, and senior director of Qatar International Academy for Security Studies. He is a 21-year veteran of the FBI and specialised in counterterrorism operations.
Adapted from Aljazeera

New Ooni: Not catching them old

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By Banji Ojewale
Unlike what is going on in the slow business of forming the Federal Executive Council so far characterized by a preponderance of elements of the older generation and the have-been, the kingmakers at Ile-Ife, Osun State, have opted to offer some lessons on how not to catch them old. For our own President Muhammudu Buhari, who appears not to believe that the young shall grow, this must be a time to learn from both the Ooni-elect and the Ife chiefs who have said nay to palace gerontocracy.
At 40, Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi comes in as a pulsating and rambunctious challenge to prevalent political notions of old age and experience as exclusive prerequisites for salutary performance in office or industry. To be sure, these “virtues” count. But they are not final or absolute. We must only reckon with them as some of the skills required in a successful team. Their impact will be meaningful only according to the energy input of the emerging generation.
For, the issue of governing or organizing society isn’t all about the age of a sage. It is also greatly about energizing an enterprise which only the radiance and bubble of young age can do. Both are required for balance or equilibrium. Just as all the stands of the traditional cooking tripod are needed for a stable hold of the pot.
When Ogunwusi’s predecessor Oba Okunade Sijuwade was brought in in 1980 as the 50th Ooni at 50, pundits said it was not too prudent, given the dominance of the political climate by the men and women who held sway in the 50s and 60s. They were still in charge of all spheres of the Nigerian firmament after an iron hold on the powerful institutions of state from pre-colonial days right to the two decades after. The point of the critics was that the system could only thrive if kindred spirits (denominated by cronyism and age) ran it at all levels.
Now Sijuwade wasn’t quite a “kindred spirit”. But he had vast business links that accommodated politicians and the government machinery for patronage. He was therefore accepted as one of them, even if as a backroom operator in the industrial military complex of the Nigerian system. This explains why in his 35 year rule that witnessed the rise and fall of several civilian and military governments, Sijuwade’s industrial clusters that dug in westwards and went northwards and eastwards and southwards never shrank, never fell. They maintained a dynamic expansion, the same way the monarch sustained seamless relationships with influential traditional rulers in the far north and east of the Niger before his death at 85 in 2015.
The incoming Ogunwusi hasn’t followed a similar trajectory.
He is being caught young, not old and spent and bereft of spritely bounce, a leap that matches the vision of society that must feed on the wisdom of experience and on the raw vitality of youth. Unlike the old ones who would stop developing once in the palace, Ogunwusi would grow in the saddle; he would age with experience in “office”. He would ride on a horse with two lives: one, moving at a slow pace observing and learning and the other jetting with speed and gathering momentum.
Contrasting with those before him, Ogunwusi has spoken of a transcendental future; an age that he says should be the next level for the Yoruba race and for the youth of Nigeria. He is breaking out of the cocoon of palace mentality. He has taken Ile-Ife as the station to launch a global vision. Age is on his side to midwife his goals, if he does not look down on the counsel of the older culture. The two need one another, never mind the principle of only one captain steering the ship.
I believe that Buhari’s approach of catching members of his change team old as it looks to most Nigerians is not a strategy that respects the future. If you rest only on age or so called experience, you shut out the essential spice of vibrant youth, some substantial percentage of which forms the soul of this country. It is the same bottom of the bag he has put himself in with the mean number of women he has in his cabinet. These days one of the indices you apply to access a society’s development is how far you accommodate women in government and public office, which in turn offers a window into the extent of education you allow them to have.
It is a twist in the tale that tutorials on change based on the infusion of fresh blood in governance and politics are coming from a symbol of what some of us have called a dying institution. Others even say it is dead; it is just that the monarchical system has not been buried.
Whichever way it goes, this extinct order is interrogating us. A relic is reinventing itself. It is rejuvenating itself. It is throwing off ancient features and habits that stunted its growth and gave it death.
Nigeria can also come alive again by connecting the power and potential of its youth and women to the experience of the older generation to spring a surprise on the world. Let us stop the present from aborting our future prosperity. An English philosopher Francis Bacon (1561-1626) put this role of the youth in society this way: “Young men (and women) are fitter to invent than to judge, fitter for execution than for counsel and fitter for new projects than for settled business.”
Decades ago, the United States of America worked on this principle and brought out youthful John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Several years later, the aging Soviet Republic followed that tradition by calling upon Mikhail Gorbachev. Their societies never regretted those decisions.
Ojewale is a writer and journalist at Ota, Ogun State.