For Kian Tadjbakhsh (’18), November 13 was just another Friday afternoon spent hanging out with his friends. But at around 11 p.m., Tadjbakhsh’s phone began to buzz uncontrollably, with dozens of text messages flowing in, concerned about his safety.
Dumbstruck, Tadjbakhsh looked online and, to his horror, began to follow the live terror attacks in Paris. “I was really scared because I know many people in Paris and I have many family members and friends [living in Paris],” Tadjbakhsh said. “Since I wasn’t home at the time, I kept wondering if anyone, that either I knew or my family knew, had gotten injured.”
On November 13, a series of terrorist attacks took place simultaneously in several different arrondissements in Paris.
The first attack took place right outside the Stade de France, where the French National Team was playing a soccer match against Germany. Three suicide bombers detonated their vests near the stadium after their initial plan to explode their bombs inside failed when they did not pass security checks to enter the match.
The next wave of attacks took place at several different cafés and restaurants in the 10th and 11th arrondissements. Attackers, armed with machine guns, fired at civilians through the windows of restaurants and at those sitting out on terraces of cafés.
The final, and most lethal, attack was a mass shooting at the Bataclan concert venue, across the street from January’s terror attack at the Charlie Hebdo office. Three men wearing flak jackets and carrying AK-47 assault rifles burst through the Bataclan doors during the middle of a concert and began firing.
It is estimated that in total, these terror attacks rendered 130 dead and 368 injured.
The horrors of the night sparked international outrage and fear of the widespread reach of the Islamic State (IS), when the terrorist group claimed responsibility – and applauded – the attacks the next day. IS also publicly stated that the motive behind staging the attack in Paris was to retaliate against France’s airstrikes in Syria and Iraq.
Following the attacks, Lucas Achkar (’19) was relieved to hear that none of his family or friends had been affected. Yet when he travelled to Paris the week after to see family, he noticed a difference in the city: The usually bustling streets were empty. “You could see that even though most [people] did not have family or friends affected, all French people, especially Parisians, were affected by it,” Achkar said. “I felt quite sad because you could see the sorrow in people on the streets.”
After issuing a temporary blockade of France’s borders and a state of national emergency, President of France Francois Hollande responded to the attacks by launching the largest airstrike on IS yet by French forces, targeting Raqqa, IS’s de facto capital in Syria.
Consequently, U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron called for Britain to extend its bombing campaign from Iraq into Syria, arguing that airstrikes against IS would help bring a political settlement to the country. As of December 4, Britain joined the coalition of nations carrying out airstrikes against IS in Syria.
This decision did not come without consequences. On December 12, a man at the Leytonstone tube station stabbed three people after reportedly saying, “this is for Syria.” The Metropolitan Police are treating the case as a terrorist incident.
Although Tadjbakhsh acknowledges that civilians may die during these airstrikes, he believes this would defeat IS in a shorter amount of time. “We French have suffered a lot of people,” he said. “We need to end this war, even if that means that some innocent civilians will be killed.”
After seeing the attacks unfold, Anonymous, an international network of hackers, released a viral video declaring war on IS, specifically targeting social media sites such as Twitter, which is central to their recruiting campaign. Since then, over 6,000 IS Twitter accounts have been either hacked or taken down.
Tadjbakhsh supports the efforts made by Anonymous, believing cyber warfare against IS is the most effective way of weakening their strength and growing international reach. “I think what Anonymous is doing is great,” he said. “We should try to keep [the war against IS] to cyber warfare, because with technology, IS can do almost anything.”
A few days after the tragedy in Paris, Head of School Coreen Hester sent an email informing ASL families of various security measures that have been put in place following the attacks. These changes include permanently closing Marlborough gate, limiting access times of the Loudoun entrance and installing a screening around the Loudoun and Marlborough playground perimeter.
Hester believes the school is expertly prepared from any potential threat. “Unfortunately, no one can guarantee that no one will attack,” she said. “But do I believe ASL is fiercely, robustly, carefully, thoughtfully managing all of our risk factors? Yes, I do.”
Similarly, Head of Security Barak Favé believes that the new security measures are simply precautions and that ASL is not in any particular danger. “I’m more concerned with high value targets like shopping centers, like Oxford Street, places that are monumentally busy,” he said. “[IS] are looking for maximum exposure.”
Tadjbakhsh believes that avoiding potential attack sites is a sign of capitulation and only strenghtens IS. “[IS] are terrorists and they want to make people fear them and make people change their daily habits,” he said. “But I’m not going to stop doing what I do daily because that’s when the terrorists know they’ve won.”
Looking toward the future, Favé believes that there are certain safety procedures that everyone should be aware of. “I think security is everyone’s business,” he said. “We need everyone to be aware and active and report anything that looks suspicious or out of the ordinary.”
When it was discovered that one of the terrorists, a 26-year-old Belgian national, Salah Abdeslam, was alive and had entered Belgium, Brussels went under lockdown on November 21.
On November 21, Varsity Boys Basketball Coach Josh Davis arrived in Brussels. When he got off the Eurostar, he was not prepared for what he saw. “We get off the train and there’s military everywhere and they were searching whoever they felt like they needed to search,” Davis said. “We saw armored vehicles and that’s when it set in how intense the atmosphere was.”
Davis travelled with his son and wife to see his parents for an early Thanksgiving.
Born in Waterloo, approximately 15 minutes outside of Brussels, Davis postponed his trip back to London when the city went on lockdown.
From Davis’ perspective, the Belgian response to the lockdown, which lasted four days, was very unique to the country itself. “I have a friend who runs a hotel, and obviously everyone who had booked all cancelled their bookings, so his business [is] losing a lot of money. [But] he’s not freaking out about it. The Belgian approach to things is very different, they’re more relaxed,” he said.
While it is reported that Abdeslam has escaped to Syria, Davis recognizes the importance of Abdeslam’s connection to Belgium. “These are Belgian kids; yes they come from different backgrounds, but most of them were born in Belgium, educated in Brussels, so they have a westernized, European point of view on many things,” he said.
While the lockdown in Brussels and the terrorist attakcs in Paris have been widely reported on by the media, one attack perpetrated by IS was widely overlooked. On November 12, two suicide bombers detonated explosives in a mainly Shiite residential area of southern Beirut, where over 200 people were wounded and at least 43 people died.
Ziad Hariri (’17), who lived in Lebanon for 11 years, understands why the Paris attacks received more media attention than the bombings carried out by IS in Beirut. “It’s closer to home, it’s more relatable. These atrocities are happening all the time in the Arab world and so they’re kind of forgotten,” he said.
However, for Hariri, the attack carried out by IS in Lebanon touched him like the Paris attacks touched Parisians. “With my friends in Lebanon we talk about how we should be broadcasted more so people can see what’s happening in other places as well as in Europe,” he said. “We were talking about it, it could have been people we knew, because we’re actually from the place and the French people, if they were affected because family members were hurt, it’s the same thing for us, so we were kind of surprised when there was barely any recognition.”
IS’s reach has continued to increase. On December 4 in San Bernardino, California, 14 people were killed and 21 people were wounded when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire at the Inland Regional Center.
On December 5, IS took to its official Iraqi news television station to praise the attacks carried out by Farook and Malik. It is believed by U.S. officials that a day prior to the shootings, Malik pledged allegiance to IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on Facebook.
While Hariri sees it as “natural” to highlight certain news events in the media, he firmly believes in paying attention to IS’s movements in places that are far away. “There should be more recognition for things happening in other places,” he said. I think that people should learn more about what’s going on in other places.”