Vail Daily column: A chance to end ISIS threat |

Vail Daily column: A chance to end ISIS threat

Matthew Kennedy

The Paris attacks came as a surprise to many, yet not to others including myself. I’m stunned a similar scale event didn’t happen sooner, especially from Algerian based militant Islamists. There have been rumors of various Islamist plots directed at Paris targets since 1994, when members of Algeria’s Armed Islamic Group hijacked an Air France plane and attempted to fly it into the Eiffel Tower; their efforts were thwarted after French CT officers stormed the flight during a layover in Marseilles. My immediate thought after learning of the attack was an al-Qaida, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb or ISIS operation. The answer was revealed on the 14th when the Islamic State claimed responsibility. The operation was especially ominous since it revealed ISIS possessed an operational capability beyond the Middle East.

ISIS’ Paris operation may change Europe and the Middle East’s strategic environments.

• The attack might compel the European Union and United States to examine how both address the plight of Syria’s refugees.

• It might induce different European nations to address the socio-economic problems encouraging ISIS recruitment efforts.

• The tragedy may lead to the destruction of ISIS and a resolution of Syria’s civil war.

The timing of the Paris operation could not have been worse for the Europeans and the Americans. The attacks impact several issues: The status of Syrian refugees; the socio-economic conditions resulting in a high unemployment rate among Europe’s Muslim youth population; and international efforts toward neutralizing the ISIS threat.

The attacks are compelling European and American authorities to re-assess their refugee-acceptance policies. The issue is significant since one of the operation’s participants entered France using a fake Syrian passport. The situation led several European countries, most notably Slovakia, Poland, Hungary, and the Netherlands, to question the E.U.’s plan at distributing the Middle East’s war-stricken refugees across the organization. Several American states instituted measures designed to ban Syrian refugees from settling in their jurisdictions — an act prohibited by the Constitution.

The situation poses several difficulties for Washington and Brussels’ policymakers. ISIS may execute attacks against U.S. and/or European targets via operatives successfully disguised as Syrian refugees. Prohibiting civilians fleeing Syria or the Middle East’s other war-torn areas from entering the U.S. and EU is problematic. Enacting related measures enhances ISIS and other militant Islamist recruitment propaganda by deepening their arguments that Europe and the U.S. are in a war with Islam. The measure rejects the immigrant-welcoming reputation Americans are known for. It finally deprives victims of the Middle East’s various wars from re-starting their lives. A potential solution entails enacting stricter screening procedures on both sides of the Atlantic without stifling refugees’ entry into either area. The problem is the financial resources required for a more stringent vetting process may not be available, since both parties are still recovering from the Great Recession.

A secondary issue the Paris attacks forced to resurface are the roots compelling Muslim youths to militant Islamist groups. Several of the Paris attackers came from Brussels’ Molenbeek district — an area permeating with a disenfranchised Muslim youth, who are also victims of a high unemployment environment. Several other militant Islamist plots have originated from the suburb. A key issue among E.U. policymakers is how to create employment opportunities and decrease the sense of exclusion among Europe’s Islamic youth population.

The Paris attacks’ final aspect relates to international efforts against ISIS. The immediate aftereffect of the tragedy was an augmentation of French, British, American and Russian attacks against Islamic State targets. What is a lacking is a coordination of military efforts. The principle obstacle relates to Syria’s long-term status. All parties agree ISIS must be eliminated; where they differ is the extent to which ISIS is targeted as it impacts Syrian President Assad’s ability to retain power. Russia doesn’t object to striking ISIS providing their efforts do not degrade his power base. The U.S., France and U.K. are seeking Assad’s ouster and the Islamic State’s destruction. Reconciling Moscow’s differences with Paris, London, and Washington will determine how long ISIS remains a threat.

The Nov. 13 Paris attack was tragic; the event offers the U.S. and EU an opportunity, however. The attack’s aftermath is a chance to negate ISIS’ recruitment activities by continuing to allow Syrian refugees to settle in both areas, decreasing the high unemployment rate among Muslim youths and addressing their sense of exclusion. Finally, the tragedy offers the international community a chance to end the ISIS threat, while resolving Syria’s ongoing civil war.

Matthew Kennedy has a master’s degree in diplomatic studies from the University of Westminster in London. He’s lived in Europe, Asia and Russia. Comments or questions can be directed to

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