When I fell asleep last night the Paris death toll had risen over a period of 2 hours from 40 dead to over 140 dead. I expected it could well have reached 200 by the time I woke up again. So it was something of a relief to learn that it had actually fallen to 127.
There seem to have been at least 2 separate groups of attackers, each comprising 4 gunmen. Last night reports were saying that the attacks were almost simultaneous, but today the BBC is giving times and locations (shown in map at right).
One group of terrorists seem to have been suicide bombers who all blew themselves up at 21:30 local time. But it rather looks like a car carrying the other 4 gunmen first stopped at 21:20 local time outside a couple of restaurants and killed people sitting outside (most likely smokers!). They then drove a short way south, and shot up another restaurant. And then they drove a lot further south, and at 21:50 shot up another restaurant, before doubling back north and entering the Bataclan concert hall at 22:00 and killing 80 – 100 people inside.
That’s 40 minutes after the shooting first started that the main atrocity begins. One might have hoped that the alarm might have been raised by then, telling theatres and stadiums to close and bar their doors. This doesn’t seem to have happened.
So my first thought is that a lot of lives might have been saved if there had been an effective alarm system in place. First reports were probably being made at 21:20 on mobile phones. Police would have known almost immediately. And TV and radio news networks would have known a few minutes later, and could have started telling people to stay indoors. And if people with mobile phones started calling friends and family, the news could have begun to propagate rapidly (maybe swamping the phone network?).
My second thought was that there’s probably no defence against attacks of this sort. The Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year was a highly targeted attack. This new attack was clearly quite indiscriminate. And in fact, given the sequence of attacks shown in the map above, it doesn’t even look as if the attacks were carefully planned, but were opportunistic. It almost looks like the gunmen shot up two restaurants and then made their getaway, before noticing that clearly no alarm had been raised, and so stopped to shoot up another restaurant before doubling back to head for the big prize of the Bataclan concert hall which they’d probably passed earlier on their way south, and which they guessed (correctly) would not have been secured.
My third thought was that if this was indeed a Syrian IS revenge attack, then if the Russian airliner downed over the Sinai a week or so back was also downed by IS, that makes two revenge attacks inside two weeks, and the next targets are likely to be Britain and the USA over the next few weeks.
My fourth thought was that the two Charlie Hebdo gunmen killed 11 people in a single attack (about 5 each), but now we have 8 gunmen/bombers killing 128 people in multiple attacks (about 16 each). So what happens if 100 gunmen strike some city in 25 separate simultaneous carefully targeted attacks? If the kill rate is even higher, say 25 each, that’s going to be 2,500 dead. That would be an event comparable to 9/11, in which nearly 3,000 people were killed.
And my fifth thought is that there are probably standing armies of gunmen already in place throughout the world, living off social security in Britain, France, and elsewhere. One of the Charlie Hebdo gunmen had been living in France for years, and even had a wife and child. But when the order came, he left all that, and drove 100 km to Paris on a suicide mission.
My final thought is that this has been a major security failure by the Paris authorities. It simply shouldn’t be possible for carloads of armed gunmen to drive around a city like Paris shooting people for 40 minutes or more without a general alarm being raised. There ought to be a means whereby every single bar, restaurant, theatre, stadium, railway station can be alerted within minutes of an attack, and told to close and bar their doors. In fact, every single citizen ought to be informed what they should do in the event of attacks like this. If Paris had an effective alarm system, there’d now be just 20 or 30 people dead, not nearly 130.