THE BLOG
01/07/2015 07:44 pm ET Updated Mar 09, 2015

Analyzing the Paris Terror Attack

The tragic massacre at the office of a French satirical publication in Paris marks a direct attack upon the foundations of all democratic societies. It merits immediate and universal condemnation across all political and religious spectrums regardless of affiliation. It also requires the firm and unequivocal public expression of solidarity with media globally.

Such solidarity will send a clear message that civil liberties, particularly freedoms of speech and the press, will not be compromised, undermined or intimidated by acts or threats of violence. Furthermore, ordinary citizens and particularly leaders, must remain firm and resolute in upholding and defending civil liberties without caving into political populism.

From a security perspective, the main question is whether the perpetrators form part of an independent terrorist cell, a group connected to a wider network or directly or indirectly linked to ISIS.

The event was clearly a professional attack involving detailed planning and execution. For considerable time, French authorities and their European counterparts have warned of the continuing threat of blowback from conflicts in Syria and Iraq. It specifically emanates from European jihadists returning from conflicts zones and lone wolf sympathizers taking violent action individually.

Due to geographical realities, Europe remains far more vulnerable to these threats than the United States. Europe's porous border with Turkey and the influx of thousands on its southern shores presents opportunities for radicals.

Estimates of those venturing to Iraq and Syria vary in the hundreds. Numerous arrests, detentions and prosecutions have already taken place. Although many return with rogue agendas, others come home disillusioned and rejecting violence. The latter must not be neglected but rather effectively engaged to prevent and discourage other potential recruits.

Although French officials claim the prevention of five major attacks over the past two years, lone wolf incidents persist. A spate of attacks in late 2014 included two incidents of drivers ramming cars into crowds in commercial centers and an assailant wielding a knife at police. In May 2014, a French citizen with a year's experience in Syria killed three at a Jewish museum in Belgium. In March 2012, a radicalized French national with training in Afghanistan and Pakistan killed three French soldiers and three children and a teacher at a Jewish school in Tolouse.

As a leading member of the international coalition against ISIS, France remains a clear target. ISIS publicly vowed revenge against France and other coalition members.

The continuing struggle against violent religious radicalism remains both global and generational in context. The attack against the French magazine office is neither the first nor last of its kind. The road ahead will be marked by further tragedy.

For the foreseeable future, the jihadist threat can be downgraded and contained. Only a concerted and collective transnational effort focusing on immediate short-term measures and strategic long-term aims can effectively confront these violent threats. Victory will not be achieved at a fixed time or date. Progress can only be attained gradually over an extended period.