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In the aftermath of Friday night’s shocking terrorist attacks in Paris, in which 129 people were killed and more than 300 wounded, we are left asking how did these extremists organise an attack of this scale undetected? The scene of greatest devastation was at a performance of Californian rock band Eagles of Death Metal, who were playing at the Bataclan theatre when gunfire broke out. Other attacks occurred in a restaurant and at a soccer stadium, creating scenes of chaos from the sudden, multi-pronged activity. Terror organisation IS has since claimed responsibility, and warned of more attacks to follow if France continues its role in air strikes in Syria and Iraq.
Counter terrorism researcher, Deakin University’s Professor Greg Barton, says that we know who did this and why they did it, but the question is: how did they do it? He explains it’s likely the terrorists organised the attacks in face-to-face meetings leading up to the event. By avoiding discussion online and via social media, the group would have been able to evade French electronic and digital surveillance.
Prof. Barton says that although national security would have increased after the Charlie Hebdo shootings in Paris earlier this year, it wasn’t possible to stop this attack. He explains that this shows ‘we can’t rely on digital surveillance and we need people in the communities to speak up when they see someone slipping away’.
Given it’s possible for terrorists to fly under the surveillance radar, Prof. Barton says it’s imperative that ‘we become better at detecting radicalisation and recruitment in the early stages’.
Prof. Barton’s research into terrorism aims to identify the reasons and risk factors behind radicalisation, and reveal what attracts people to violent extremist groups like the Islamic State. His work helps support government agencies, who run intervention programs in the community.
‘Hundreds of young Australians have been prevented from travelling to join the conflict in Syria and Iraq, but while that sort of intervention saves lives, it is not a sufficient response in and of itself,’ Prof. Barton says. ‘Families and community groups need to be helped to work with those stopped from travelling and those found to be at risk of recruitment.’
Professor Barton is Chair in Global Islamic Politics at the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation at Deakin University.
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