I’ve never been to a pop concert. I won’t be going to one anytime soon. The son of a friend was at the Bataclan concert in Paris on Friday night and thankfully, made it out with his friend. 80 others didn’t and many more are left with life threatening and life changing injuries. Those young people saw things that evening that most soldiers don’t see in a career. Just as their lives have changed, so has life for us all. The attack which security services in Europe expected but dreaded manifested itself in a brutal slaughter of the innocent on a medieval scale. It is an unfortunate irony that many of those kids who were perhaps living life to the full, brimming with optimism and idealism would have been the very constituency who supported mass migration from Syria, Africa and the Middle East this year. I described it at the time as possibly the biggest Trojan Horse in history. The full ramifications of unfettered migration over many months from war zones is yet to be felt. The media has been very sensitive to cross referencing migration and terrorism, especially the BBC who were at the forefront in creating political pressure to open the doors, but the fact remains that mainland Europe does not know what internal security risks it has created as a result of its liberal approach to the problem.
The threat from Sunni jihadists is not new, especially in France. Returning foreign fighters, domestic supporters of ISIS and other individuals sympathetic to the jihadist cause who pre date problems in Syria create a complex and multi stranded threat. At the moment, it is not known if the perpetrators on Friday were returnees working to Syrian based planning and funding or grassroots operators sponsored by domestic organisations or a combination of both. The dominant threat currently comes from ISIS and that pre dates Fridays incident with 10 out of 17 previous attacks since September 2014 being perpetrated by ISIS fighters or sympathisers. A French returnee has also reportedly told the authorities that Syria was a “terrorist factory” where individuals were being trained to attack Europe in the near future, and it has also been reported that returnees would attack not in their countries of origin, but elsewhere to lessen the risk of detection upon return (Le Monde, October 20). According to The Jamestown Foundation there is roughly a 3:1 ratio of domestic sympathiser events versus returnee attacks and while the security services stop or disrupt more than half of those initiated we know from old experience that the terrorist only needs to get through once. Certainly, the events of Friday in Paris wholly justify the British Governments approach to the Syrian refugee crisis in focusing on the camps and only letting individuals in directly from those camps who have been fully vetted.
Whatever the source of funding and planning of the terrorist operation France plans to hit ISIS hard. Air operations overnight are a start but the skies over Syria are becoming congested with Allied and Russian aircraft and the French may decide to focus on Northern Iraq where they have already flown 1,285 sorties against Islamic State targets whereas up until last night they had flown only two sorties in Syria. At some point, the Allies are going to have to commit ground forces to destroy and eradicate ISIS. Given justification for previous conflicts it shouldn’t be difficult to come to that conclusion. ISIS is engaged in genocide in Northern Iraq, they present a high level threat to our own populations and war from the air is not working. Having created the vacuum in which ISIS has flourished I’m not sure for how much longer governments can continue to ignore their moral and political duty.
It’s also clear that Schengen is finished in an already rattling European construct. No government will survive if they fail to protect their citizens. The Bavarian prime minister Horst Seehofer knows this and is becoming more vocal in his demands for permanent border controls and faster repatriation of asylum seekers. That view in Germany is underpinned by the popular view which is hardening, helped by incidents such as the one last week when a Montenegrin citizen was arrested while allegedly driving to Paris with several weapons. While German police have not established a direct connection between this incident and Friday’s attacks, they have said that a link cannot be ruled out. The fact that this man was from Montenegro and made it to Germany in his car will strengthen the demands for stricter border controls along the so-called Balkan route of migration. Politically, Merkel is now in a weakened state which will probably be terminal and we can expect a rise in support for parties coming from the extreme left and right wings, especially if governments are not seen to act.
2001 New York
2004 Beslan, Russia
2009 Maiduguri, Nigeria
2012 Kano, Nigeria
2013 Baga, Nigeria
2014 Kaduna, Nigeria
What about the UK? The list of significant terrorist actions above reminds us that we are well within their reach from either internal or external operators. Our Security Services will stop most incidents but what of those who get through? Our experience with Jihadists is mostly limited to the 7/7 bus and tube attacks in 2005. The big difference between Jihadists and the Provisionals, who we fought for 30 years, is that the Jihadists are prepared, or expect, to die. That was never the case with PIRA. Moreover, we have to ask the basic question, ‘is our lightly armed police force trained and prepared to respond to a fire group attack like Paris?’ I don’t doubt the bravery of individual coppers but facing multiple battle hardened assassins armed with automatic weapons and suicide belts is a level beyond their normal drills, even if they are an armed response unit. Witness the television scenes of the armed French policemen outside the Bataclan concert, unsure of what to do. The basis and success of previous actions were on attacks going wrong which led to armed sieges and negotiated outcomes or by action after much preparation and reconnaissance by special forces. It just doesn’t work like that anymore. To save lives action has to be swift, aggressive and lethal.
The basis of national confidence in our response rests on 22 SAS. Even with a sub unit based in London though, they can’t be everywhere. Even if they could be within 45 mins of every town in England, 45 mins is too long in these situations. I think the Home Secretary and Chief Constables have no choice but to radically upgrade fire arms training and arming of police officers across the UK. To send an ordinary unarmed beat officer into one of these situations will have only one outcome. In mitigation, it is very difficult to acquire and move around automatic weapons in the UK. The police are very skilled at interdicting plots before they get to maturity and especially when working with GCHQ, 5 and 6 it is not easy for terrorists to plan and execute operations. It isn’t impossible though. Cuts in the numbers of police officers should be suspended immediately. Military support should not be considered by the COBRA committee after a bad thing happens but the committee should start planning on that basis now.
What does that mean? I would nominate two infantry battalions or Marine Commandos for Home Defence, one operational the other resting and training on 4 week rotations and rotate the battalions with others every 12 months. The operational battalion would be dispersed in platoon sized sub units across the UK, each with a serving or retired SAS or SBS instructor with a section on short notice to move 24 hrs a day. Their aim would be simple; in the event of a terrorist attack their task is to rapidly deploy and kill the terrorist. I would rebuild the old Northern Ireland ‘Tin City,’ to suit current scenarios, ie shopping malls, theatres, spaces for large groups and train both police and soldiers relentlessly. This is not a game, when this new enemy get in their stride the casualty list climbs by scores every minute. They do not negotiate. Speed and aggression are paramount. Our current intelligence and Special Forces based response is not commensurate with the threat. Many would recoil at the inclusion of military assets as part of normal support to the police but these are not normal times and this is no ordinary enemy. The safety and well-being of ordinary citizens is much more important that what column writers in the Guardian think. Anyone thinking that such a plan is excessive may wish to consider how we would deal with a four man fire group letting rip at the Metro Centre in Gateshead two weeks before Christmas. Thought so. I’d mostly be calling in the Commanding Officers for their briefings right now.