the mindless, random violence of Beirut, Benghazi or Baghdad has come to a European capital. The murder of more than 100 people is profoundly shocking, and not just to the Parisians who have already suffered the assaults on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a Jewish supermarket this year.
Yet this new assault is a step beyond. It is an attack more profoundly serious than anything seen to date and with echoes that will reverberate for many years.
Highly organised, apparently directed from abroad, supremely difficult to defend against, this may well be the beginning of a long wave of assaults, as a Europe that is already in deep crisis grapples with the collapse of Muslim societies on its doorstep. We must grasp this, and grasp it fast.
People are evacuated following an attack at the Bataclan concert venue in Paris
Chaotic migration is one consequence as the Middle East unravels, but a campaign of destruction by Islamist fanatics who hate our way of life is altogether more terrifying – as it intends to be. This is war, said Francois Hollande. This is total war, added Nicolas Sarkozy. This is no exaggeration.
The techniques used by the murderers are not new. Islamist terrorists work to a limited tactical playbook. Attacks on aircraft are the most prized because the media spectacle is dramatic and they trigger pervasive underlying fears of flying.
Since the killing spree in Mumbai in 2008, however, such groups have also mounted marauding urban gun attacks, in which roving shooters target hotels, bars and, always, anything identifiably Jewish. They reckon on the police not having equivalent firepower to AK47 assault rifles and grenades.
It is the level of organisation that takes this to a different level. Eight or more gunmen/suicide bombers were involved. They were not encumbered with the large backpacks used in London on 7/7, but were wearing belts or chest packs filled with high explosives rather than cruder, more voluminous materials cooked up from fertiliser, magnesium and peroxide.
Since a car linked to them has Belgium number-plates, dealers in the murky netherworld of drugs and guns behind Brussels’ Gare du Midi station may be where they acquired military-grade assault rifles. Belgium has a long history of gun-running and mercenaries. It is also home to many Islamic extremists, hence the many arrests yesterday.
Attacks like these almost always result in the deaths of the perpetrators, for both Al Qaeda and Islamic State are ‘death cults’ (a term I coined). That makes it likely that they have undergone infantry-style training, firing short bursts, moving swiftly and calmly, pausing to reload their guns several times.
Someone has also spent weeks drumming into their minds that violent death is just a momentary blink as they enter heavenly paradise. This would have happened in jihadi training camps.
ONE of the men had a Syrian passport, another an Egyptian one, but at least one was a French national. They may be among the 250 French jihadi volunteers who have returned from Syria, or an experienced core could have been bulked out with recruits from the dismal immigrant banlieues of Paris.
Maintaining 24/7 surveillance on 2,000 suspects is almost impossible, since it requires about 30 agents to keep one person under constant observation. Which ones do you choose to follow? Where do you find intelligence agents who do not stick out in the banlieues?
Forensic police search for evidences inside the Comptoire Voltaire cafe at the site of an attack