U.S. Officials Say Sophistication Of Attacks Could Point To Al-Qaida

Nov 13, 2015
Originally published on November 14, 2015 7:10 am
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KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The prosecutor in Paris says there were multiple attacks across the city tonight and more than 120 people could be dead. He also says at least five attackers were killed. Right now, heavily armed soldiers have taken up positions throughout Paris. NPR counterterrorism expert - correspondent Dina Temple-Raston says the nature of these attacks are already giving officials in France and the U.S. clues as to who may have been responsible for this, and she joins us now. Hi, Dina.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Hi.

MCEVERS: So tell us what are those clues?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, law enforcement officials that we spoke to - both in the U.S. and France - say the sophistication of the attacks give them some clues as to who might be responsible, even though no group has formally taken responsibility for this. And their suspicions - and again this is at a very early stage of the investigation - point to al-Qaida because the group specializes in these kinds of really sophisticated simultaneous attacks. And ISIS to date has not shown that kind of organization. Now again, everybody was surprised that ISIS may have been responsible for a bomb on a Sharm el-Sheikh airliner just in the past month, but at the same time just because of the history, they're focused on al-Qaida right now.

MCEVERS: OK, but we should also be clear here, Dina, that no one has taken responsibility - formal responsibility - for these attacks in Paris tonight, correct?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. I mean, there's lots of cheering from jihadis on social media, but that's virtually meaningless.

MCEVERS: Right.

TEMPLE-RASTON: When they're looking for claims of responsibility, they're looking for claims that include details - inside details - of the attacks themselves. That's why - part of the reason why so little information is coming out. They hold that back so that when there is someone who says they're responsible, they can sort of check their credibility.

MCEVERS: And so we know that these coordinated attacks have been a combination of shootings and explosions. Do you have any more details about that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, we understand that there were suicide bottom - bombers at the stadium at the Stade de France. And the working theory is that in fact these two men wanted to come into the stadium where they could do more damage. But as it turns out, the president, Hollande, was at a soccer game there, a friendly match between France and Germany, and so security was much tighter. And so their theory is that the explosions happened outside or near the stadium because they couldn't get it inside to wreak the damage that they wanted to wreak.

MCEVERS: We also know that President Hollande has moved very quickly to close France's borders. Why do you think he's done that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I think this may have something to do with what happened back in January during the attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo's offices. I don't know if you remember or not, but in fact one of the suspects in that was the wife of the man who opened fire in the kosher supermarket in Paris - Coulibaly was his name. And she was his common-law wife, and they started looking for her as she was a suspect in this and had been seen at various scenes within Paris when this was going on. And she had disappeared. As it turns out, she had snuck across the border of Turkey into ISIS territory in Syria. And that's where she is now. So it may be to avoid a repeat of that kind of situation that President Hollande moved as quickly as he did to close the borders this time.

MCEVERS: And really quickly, Dina, when we talk about the coordinated nature of these attacks, why is it that an organization has to be sophisticated to do that? What does it take to be able to do that?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, just pulling off one attack as we see 'cause there's not a lot of them is very, very difficult. To get the secrecy that's needed, to get the materials that are needed, to get everyone to do everything at the right time and get the right people is very, very difficult. This is why it doesn't happen that often. And so this is as sophisticated as any attack that we've seen from al-Qaida. We'll see if that's what it turns out to be this time.

MCEVERS: That's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Thank you very much, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.