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Bruce Hoffman: Paris Attacks 'Very Similar' To 2008 Attacks On Mumbai


Bruce Hoffman is the head of the national security program at Georgetown University. He's in London now, and he joins us on the line. Thanks for being with us.


MCEVERS: Hi. This is obviously a very fluid situation. We don't have a lot of information about who these attackers were. Of course, no one has taken formal responsibility, as we just heard. But given what you know, as a terrorism expert, I mean, do these attacks have the hallmarks of any particular terrorist group?

HOFFMAN: Not at the moment, no. I think the one data point that sticks most clearly in my mind is that in September 2010, Osama bin Laden called for Mumbai-style attacks across Europe. This is to emulate the November 2008 attacks on Mumbai, which were very similar to what's occurred in Paris tonight. At that time, there were no al-Qaida franchises capable of fulfilling his command. It fell on deaf ears. But of course, today we have a group like ISIS that certainly has this ability that, in fact, was responsible for a - or at least a follower of ISIS - was responsible for the aborted attack on a high-speed train between Belgium and France in August.

Le Monde recently has been reported that a year ago the attacks against Charlie Hebdo, but specifically the attack against the kosher restaurant, may also have had an ISIS connection. But certainly, al-Qaida's Western hemispheric arm, Jabhat al-Nusra, would be capable of this sort of attack, al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula who claimed credit for the Charlie Hebdo attack.


HOFFMAN: So unfortunately, there's a rich list of people waiting in line to implement bin Laden's dictum of five years ago.

MCEVERS: Is there anything to be learned from the tactics that were used in these attacks, the fact that they happened simultaneously, the fact that, at least from what we're seeing on French media reports, some of the gunmen were using AK-47s, Kalashnikov rifles?

HOFFMAN: Right. They certainly weren't amateurs. They were battle-hardened, and they knew what they were doing. They had tremendous discipline that they could deploy and strike at exactly the same time. It was a very bold attack, at least at the soccer stadium because the president of France was in the audience. So obviously, that's a venue that would have had heightened security, but they seem to have been undeterred by that. So clearly, the risk posed by terrorism emanating outside Syria and Iraq has, I think, tragically risen appreciably with tonight's events.

MCEVERS: And what about the security situation in France? I mean, as we said, this happened less than a year after the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. I mean, how would you characterize the government's response to that attack? And what does it tell us about what they might do now?

HOFFMAN: Well, France has always taken terrorism extremely seriously for decades and has always, I think, been amongst the forefront of countries, both in monitoring extremist elements within their own societies, but also in having very detailed response and counterterrorism units in place for exactly eventualities such as this. So in essence, what we're seeing tonight is that if France has had such difficulty in controlling and suppressing this wave of attacks, I mean, it has to send, really, a spasm of worry down, you know, the heads of security in many countries and certainly in many capitals.

Also, France, I think, is, unfortunately, uniquely well-placed to be the victim of such an attack. I say that because probably the third-largest number of foreign fighters that have left a country anywhere in the world have come from France...


HOFFMAN: ...To fight with ISIS or al-Qaida's arm, Jabhat al-Nusra, in Syria. There has been some drift, according to some reports, upwards of 200 Frenchmen who have fought with these groups, have come back to France and were being monitored by the French authorities. So you have almost this perfect storm of...

MCEVERS: Thank you so much. Thanks so much. That's Bruce Hoffman. He's the head of head of national security at Georgetown. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.