The clues Islamic State left behind in the Paris attacks will cost it dearly

November 17, 2015
Belgian police use an extended camera to look into an apartment as they stage a raid, in search of suspected muslim fundamentalists linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015.    REUTERS/Yves Herman - RTS7BPP

Belgian police use an extended camera to look into an apartment in a raid linked to the deadly Paris attacks, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Were I a fundamentalist militant in Western Europe, or, indeed, in a number of other places, I would not be overjoyed at the success of the Nov. 13 suicide attacks in Paris.

Worry would be the more appropriate response.

The intelligence and security services of many European and other countries have already swung into action. Their activities will be of greater consequence than anything that happened in the original attacks — because they want to solve the mystery of exactly what happened in Paris, and because key suspects are already proving elusive, the dangers of a crackdown are growing by the hour.

Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015.      REUTERS/Yves Herman      TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY           TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY      - RTS6ZJU

Police patrol near the Eiffel Tower the day after a series of deadly attacks in Paris , November 14, 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Conversely, in my role as an ordinary citizen — even though people like me were the targets of the Paris attacks — I am reassured. The reasons why become evident as you consider just how a massive search like this is conducted.

In the first place, while it may be true that the police started with no information about the perpetrators, that condition changed swiftly. One perpetrator, identified by a finger blown off in the detonation of his suicide vest, immediately yielded the information that the man’s brother was also an Islamist. There’s a suspect already. The discovery of a rental car leads to another identification. Immediate family, relatives and friends of individuals who have been identified become instant persons of interest in investigations like this.

In this age of aggregation, metadata and data mining, the recognition of connections or links between and among individuals has received quite a great deal of attention. That is precisely what Washington’s National Security Agency was up to with its tracing of second- and third-level associations of persons whose phone numbers were being monitored.

In the Paris investigation, making associations like this will guide one segment of the inquiry. This kind of tracking will become even more important as authorities develop real leads. For example, the militants killed in Paris on Nov. 13 may have carried phones, were wearing clothes, were carrying weapons. All those things can be traced and some, like the phones, can yield more new associations.

Belgian police stage a raid, in search of suspected muslim fundamentalists linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015.    REUTERS/Yves Herman - RTS7APR

Belgian police raid in search of suspected Muslim fundamentalists linked to the Paris attacks, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Take the weapons used in the attacks, for example. The Islamist group known as Islamic State has no logistics network in Western Europe. The attackers had to procure their weapons somewhere, which leads to the question of where there is a black market in AK-47 assault rifles that would be accessible to them. The Brussels suburb of Molenbeek is one such place.

The weapons used in the attack on the Brussels-to-Paris train in August that was foiled by three young Americans; in a shootout with Belgian police earlier this year, and in the May 2014 attack on the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels — all came from this suburb. The attackers had lived in this area, too — and the two brothers linked to the Paris attacks have been traced to Molenbeek already.

Belgian police have deployed in force into Molenbeek. Here comes the next thing that is reassuring — or not, depending on which side of the law you inhabit. The security services are not without knowledge.

In Belgium, there was a group called Sharia4Belgium that advocated sharia law and was ranked as one of the main recruiters of fighters to go to Syria. Belgium itself has gained the distinction of being the highest per-capita supplier of recruits for jihad in the Middle East. Early in 2015, a Belgian judge designated Sharia4Belgium a terrorist organization, and 45 people associated with the group were found guilty of terror-related offenses. The evidence from that trial, from the investigations of all the defendants and from the train and shoot-out incidents — all give the security services names of individuals to question in the Paris attacks.

Belgian special forces police climb high on an apartment block during a raid, in search of suspected muslim fundamentalists linked to the deadly attacks in Paris, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015.    REUTERS/Yves Herman - RTS7BY5

Belgian special forces police climb high on an apartment block during a raid, in search of suspects linked to the deadly Paris attacks, in the Brussels suburb of Molenbeek, November 16. 2015. REUTERS/Yves Herman

Similarly, the French police — and their special security service, the Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST) — have “Q” files that indicate persons of interest who may have been investigated in the past. There are reports already that at least one of the Paris attackers had a “Q” file and had been followed for a time. In Britain, Scotland Yard’s Special Branch compiles the same sort of files.

A certain number of French Muslims in Seine-Saint-Denis, or British Muslims in Birmingham or Tower Hamlets, can expect to find themselves pulled in for questioning — regardless of whether there is specific evidence linking them to events in Paris. In France alone, 168 raids were reportedly carried out on Monday. More than a hundred persons are being held in their homes.

These are reflexive elements of an investigation before there is specific evidence. They are about suspect lists and generic doubts. Interviews with such a broad swath of individuals, data mining and following the threads from detritus found at the attack scenes will, in due course, furnish investigators with even more concrete leads. Coordination among services in different nations will be imperative.

Speed is important, of course. As with the January shootings at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, big fish such as suspected ringleader Abdelhamid Abaaoud may have flown the coop already. But what gives Islamic State the capability is the network, and here thoroughness takes precedence over velocity. As security services expand their investigations, they will become more precise and able to hone in on persons or elements that have a more direct connection, if not to the Paris attacks themselves, then to other jihadi activities.

This is why I think that the Paris attacks will damage Islamist purposes throughout Western Europe more than the destruction wrought by the Paris attackers on Nov. 13. In the six months after the 9/11 attacks, the Central Intelligence Agency tells us, it and its allies swept 2,500 individuals with terrorist connections off the streets in many countries.

Expect something similar to happen here.

16 comments

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Thanks for this reassuring information. As President Obama said, ISIS is not a state, geographically limited, on which war can be declared. It is a collection of insidious, invasive cancer cells in body earth, and as such takes precise action and planning to rid body earth from them.

I am extremely grateful to Reuters for its slideshow of the victims. When a lone gunman or terrorists take innocent lives, one goal is to call attention to the killers or their organization. Calling attention to the victims puts the acts of the perpetrators front and center rather than the perpetrators themselves, who have visions of glory in creating panic among infidels. An article pointing out how the acts of these barbarians have weakened themselves is a wonderful put-down.

Posted by ratemydoodles | Report as abusive

Wishful thinking…….

Posted by No_apartheid | Report as abusive

@Solidar what a ridiculous post. You only help daesh’s narrative with inflammatory statements like that.

Posted by bhardin | Report as abusive

This media did not publish my opinion. Only the Communists ant the Nazis act this way.

Posted by Ifandiev | Report as abusive

European police are proving not to be able to cantain their larege native born jihadi populations. Eventually, the military will be required to cleanse the banlieues. Do France, Belgium and Germany have the stones to confront enemies in their own populations?

Posted by GetReel | Report as abusive

It will be interesting to follow this investigation. Starting with almost nothing, investigators are creatng a matrix of responsibility leading to the players in this attack. If they can dig out the perpetrators, they can find anyone anywhere who did anything. A finger? They dig up a finger and get a complete dossier of the guy’s relatives and contacts? A finger? Jeez!

Posted by Aranhas | Report as abusive

Watched the Turkish fans booing and chanting “The martyrs are immortal, the fatherland is indivisible” during the moment of silence for the Paris terror victims. The Ottoman Empire was once the caliphate . Next the best fighters against ISIS the Kurd’s are getting attacked by the Turkish army on a daily basis. Looks like once the caliphate is formed the capital will be Istanbul the central bank will be located in Riyadh the propaganda machinery will be in Doha .

Posted by Macedonian | Report as abusive

You don’t “hone in on persons” you “home in on persons”.

Posted by FritzM | Report as abusive

Time to go on offense. With “friends” like Turkey and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies? These are the same Turks that are NATO members, and we will be giving Stealth fighters to.

Posted by alowl | Report as abusive

The caliphate is soiled. Mohammed is dishonored. God talks to no one.

Posted by Solidar | Report as abusive

It is both quite interesting and important to note that in their rush to create yet another apologia for the Surveillance State, Reuters failed to make any connection at all between the illegal spying conducted by the NSA and similar entities and the excellent actual police work that has been both done and ongoing to track down the suspects in this case. Weak, very weak Reuters. Gotta do better than this to keep that fog floating.
Rather than appreciating the NSA, I come away from this story wishing the same kind of fundamental police work had been done on the 9/11/01 WTC case and that the NSA and other such blunt and bloated agencies had been kept in their proper place. We’d have a very different world now.

Posted by PorgyTyrebiter | Report as abusive

Every horror committed in the name of Islam pushes more and more Muslims away from Islam. Muslims are converting to other religions on a massive scale in Europe and elsewhere. Many “Muslims” call themselves that as an ethnic identification, not a religious one. Many “Muslims” are really Atheists and Agnostics, while outwardly showing Islam piety.
The longer Muslims stay in an open secular society, the weaker will be the social control of Islam.

Posted by ckd1358 | Report as abusive

So the whole family was involved

Posted by mgauss | Report as abusive

Welcome to the future.

Posted by royevatom | Report as abusive

Fanatics of any stripe don’t care if they’re caught. It all means more publicity. The Muslim extremist who blows himself up in Paris or the moron who shoots innocent people because he’s against abortion or the Jewish terrorist who bombs a church or mosque all share a common attribute: blind, unquestioning acceptance of an idea that was fed to them by a manipulator.
Whether you call this religion or stupidity is immaterial. The mindset of non-questioning acceptance results in the same end-product. Tragically, thinking and questioning are not encouraged in our modern world.

Posted by Boguseconomist | Report as abusive

Saudi Arabia must declare apostate all members of IS. This is the only way to destroy their support base.

Posted by FUD312 | Report as abusive