While others were calling the attack in Paris surprisingly sophisticated and coordinated, former NYPD Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly offered a very different appraisal, one derived from fighting terrorism day-to-day for more than a decade.
“It was shockingly simple,” Kelly told The Daily Beast. “Nothing sophisticated about it.”
The attack may have had what many are calling a mastermind, but the man did not need to be much of one to pull it off. The plot required one essential element.
“All you need is to find people who are willing to give up their lives,” Kelly said. “And there are many of those.”
Not that many are necessary.
Kelly noted that 10 gunmen were needed to kill 188 people in Mumbai in 2008 and only four gunmen were needed to kill 67 people at a Nairobi shopping mall in 2013. The latest count for the Paris attacks is that eight gunmen killed 129 people.
With regard to Paris, Kelly further noted, “The weapons that were used, AK-47s, are the most ubiquitous weapons in the world.”
He observed that the explosive the killers used to stuff their suicide vests, TATP, is easy to make. The materials are readily available. A simple recipe is on the Internet
The killers, the guns, the bombs, add up to a dispiriting lesson.
“How easily it could be done,” Kelly said. “Does it take planning? Yes. But it wasn’t anything like 9/11.”
One of three suicide bombers who had apparently intended to get into the stadium was turned away. He and another bomber detonated their vests by the entrance. The third ended up detonating his vest outside a McDonald’s, killing only one person.
Most of the carnage was conducted with the simplest of plans.
“Go into a theater with an AK-47 and kill as many people as you can,” Kelly said.
Such a plot does not require specific instructions from any of the senior leaders of ISIS.
“They put the word out to let a thousand flowers bloom and do what you can,” Kelly said.
And it can easily be repeated anywhere you can assemble that essential element of people willing to die with those they kill.
“You can do it here,” Kelly said.
By here, he meant America, most particularly New York.
Back in 2009, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was released from an American detention camp, he offered some parting words.
“I’ll see you in New York,” the man who would become the supreme leader of ISIS said, as was first reported by The Daily Beast.
Al-Baghdadi addressed those words to Army Col. Kenneth King, then commander of Camp Bucca, which at the time was manned largely by reservists with the 306th Military Police Battalion—a unit based on Long Island that includes numerous members of the NYPD and the FDNY. The camp itself was named after FDNY Fire Marshal Ronald Bucca, who was killed at the World Trade Center on 9/11.
King figured that al-Baghdadi was just saying that he had known all along that his incarceration was essentially a joke, that he had only to wait and he would be freed to go back to what he had been doing.
“Like, ‘This is no big thing, I’ll see you on the block,’” King would recall.
But whether al-Baghdadi was making a jest or a pledge six years ago, last week’s horror in Paris makes it clear that New York is under equal threat.
“The beginning of the storm,” an ISS communique promised.
And the threat is that much harder to deter because the plot is likely to be so shockingly simple, inspired but likely not directed by the higher-ups at ISIS.
We could vaporize al-Baghdadi himself and those ISIS incited could still make good on his pledge to see us in New York.