Wednesday’s attack in Paris that killed a dozen people at the offices of a satirical newspaper could be part of a new era of terrorism in which young men trained in conflicts in the Middle East return to Western Europe and the U.S. full of anger and motivation, a UC San Diego professor said.
“It’s a legitimate security concern,” said Eli Berman, an economics professor and research director for international security studies at the University of California Institute on Global Conflict and Cooperation.
Berman told City News Service that hundreds of young men who have fought with the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq have returned home to places where they are familiar with the culture, speak the language and can blend in with the local populace.
It’s difficult to defend against such people, he said.
In the Paris attack, well-armed gunmen who stormed the offices of the newspaper Charlie Hebdo killed 10 people inside and two police officers before escaping.
French officials said witnesses told them the attackers spoke French but also said “Allahu akbar” — or “God is great” — and said they were avenging the Prophet Mohammed.
“It’s shocking, and I certainly feel for the Parisians who must suddenly feel vulnerable,” Berman said.
He said amateur video shows “perpetrators who were trained,” since they knew how to fire their weapons, were familiar enough with their target that they knew they had to get someone to let them in through a security door, made sure that one of the police officers was dead, and managed to escape.
“This would tell me that they’re veterans of ISIS in Syria or Iraq,” Berman said. “That’s scary because there’s hundreds of them who have come back.”
The longer the conflicts in the Middle East go on, the larger the stock of young trained fighters, he said.
A longtime Parisian who moved to San Diego last year told City News Service that she has been in contact with friends via telephone and has been watching news reports to make sense of the situation.
She said the attackers might just be young men who were mad at the newspaper. The crumbling French economy has left a lot of people “panicky,” said the woman, who works for a French-oriented nonprofit but did not want to be identified.
The Parisian suburbs are teeming with immigrants who have no rights and sometimes want to lash out at affluent people, the woman said.
In San Diego, the Sheriff’s Department said business was being conducted as usual. The San Diego Police Department and local FBI office did not immediately respond to inquiries about whether they were on heightened alert.
—City News Service