Paris attacks: How will France respond?

Updated 9:28 PM EST, Sat November 14, 2015
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Story highlights

President Francois Hollande calls series of deadly attacks "an act of war"

The scale of Friday's assaults takes war on terror to new levels, experts say

CNN military analyst Rick Francona: France will respond with military force against ISIS

CNN —  

President Francois Hollande has called the worst violence witnessed in France since World War II “an act of war” planned outside the country “with inside complicity.”

“When the terrorists are capable of doing such acts,” he said, “they must know that they will face a France very determined.”

A string of nearly simultaneous terror attacks on six sites Friday night in Paris left at least 129 people dead, including a massacre at a concert hall, where at least 80 people were killed.

The bloodshed comes 10 months after the slaughter of 12 people in Paris at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula claimed responsibility for that attack.

After January’s attack, Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared France at “war against terrorism, against jihadism, against radical Islamism.”

But the scale of Friday’s assaults takes that war to a new level, according to experts.

Valls tweeted: “We are at war. We will take exceptional measures. And this war, we will win.”

Hollande said the “act of war” was carried out by “a jihadist army, against France, against the values that we’re defending everywhere in the world.”

“It’s an act of war prepared, organized and planned from outside with inside accomplices,” Hollande said. “It’s an act of absolute barbarity.”

On Friday, he vowed a tough response. “We will lead the fight and we will be ruthless, and we had to be here among the people who were subject to these atrocities because when the terrorists are capable of doing such acts they must know that they will face a France very determined – a France united.”

Will response be a military one?

Increasingly, France has moved in the direction of military force against terrorists overseas in recent years, according to Christopher Chivvis, associate director of the International Security and Defense Policy Center at the RAND Corp.

That’s a significant change from a decade ago when France focused primarily on the domestic front in counterterrorism strategy.

“France can be one of the most aggressive countries in the world when it comes to striking terrorist groups overseas.” Chivvis said via email Saturday.

“President Hollande has considerable capability at his disposal, including advanced airpower, highly trained special forces, and land and naval assets. France needs support of NATO allies and especially the United States to employ these capabilities to their fullest, however.”

It’s clear France will respond militarily, according to CNN military analyst Lt. Col. Rick Francona.

“The problem will be, how are they going to do that?” Francona said. “Stepping up air attacks doesn’t do anything unless we got adequate targets to strike. That’s been the problem all along in Syria and Iraq.”

Christiane Amanpour, CNN’s chief international correspondent, described Hollande’s remarks Saturday as “a language of war.”

But David Schanzer, director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security and a professor of public policy at Duke University, said unilateral action by France against ISIS in Iraq or Syria is unlikely.

Instead, Schanzer said via email, France may increase its activity and visibility as part of the international coalition against ISIS.

Yes, the massacre will increase calls for more vigorous military action than the coalition has mustered to date, Schanzer said.

“But despite the horrific attacks, the reasons against a large-scale land invasion by U.S. and NATO forces against ISIS in Iraq and Syria remain,” he said.

“Such an invasion will deepen the extremist narrative of clash of civilization between the West and Muslims, will insert our militaries into a deep, nasty and unwinnable civil war, and the invading force will eventually be responsible for reconstructing a semblance of order and governance in (a) chaotic region infected with sectarian divisions.”

Timeline of attacks

What steps did France take after Charlie Hebdo?

Cherif Kouachi, 32, and Said Kouachi, 34, the brothers who authorities said carried out the Charlie Hebdo shootings, were French citizens known to the country’s security services, according to officials.

One spent time in jail for ties to terrorism, and was in Syria as recently as last year, according to a French source. The other went to Yemen for training, officials say. They were killed in January during a standoff northeast of Paris.

“One of the Kouachi brothers had trained with al Qaeda in Yemen, but that had been some time in the past and it was a largely homegrown attack – although with some links to al Qaeda in Yemen,” CNN’s national security analyst Peter Bergen said.