This is the ‘appartement de repli’ (safe house) of a group of terrorists linked to the Paris attacks besieged on November the 18th by a police force of over one hundred.
A large scale picture, taken at night, of a corner house of Rue du Corbillon and Rue de la République in Saint-Denis, Paris metropolitan area, published in the Washington Post (printed edition and on their web-site).
Because alleged terrorists who might relate to the horrendous attacks in Paris on friday the 13th of November had hidden themselves in this building so a spokesman for the French justice system told the press after a siege of over one hour, starting at four o’clock in the morning.
Would a picture of such a downtrodden sad housing facade ever have reached the front pages of the world press if it was not for this spectacular incident? It would not.
We see four floors of the facade of the dilapidated house with flood lights directed at it. Some windows have lights on, others are dark. on the third visible floor the the last window at the right is dark and the window panes are gone, the next one has some lights on showing us a ravage with what seems to be of a smashed ceiling. The outer walls around these two windows are pocked by the impact of bullets or other projectiles.
What happened inside? What we are told is – as mostly in such cases – partial and contradictory (there was mentioning in an official statement of a woman with a bomb-belt that had exploded herself, which was later retracted by the same source). (1)
We know, even can hear and see it on amateur videos posted on Youtube, that not less than 5000 rounds of shots were fired. How many by the assailed persons in the building and how many by the police, we do not know. The traces left on the wall show more than just bullets from a pistol.
How come that these terrorists sought refuge in such a non-strategic bastion, as this corner house? Four satellite dishes can be counted in the picture, maybe more that fell down during the exchange of fire explosives. Which satellite they were pointed at, to which stations they tuned? Are houses with such a disk inhabited by people who have direct linkages to regions of the world that can not be accessed by regular cable radio & television systems? Living ‘here’ physically and living ‘there’ electronically at the same time.
Are we not all doing that in our saturated electronic environment by means of the internet? One does perceive sometimes city areas where such satellite dishes have grown into a forest of information reflectors, also indicating a neighbourhood with many recent migrants. Is that due to the lack of normal public access to television stations from home countries of big part of the (former migrant) population? We may need to reconsider the content management of our public television networks, to give more space to those with a migrant background, instead of raging about “needed integration.” That would be a deep structural change needed in our society, to make these satellite-dish forests redundant. When we non-migrant integrate more that would send a positive message.
We see several windows open, some show parts of a staircase. Is it to air the corridors from battle gasses pumped in?
Imagine the fear of the neighbours, who most probably had no knowledge of one of the apartments used as a safe-house for terrorists. On what information did the police act? Consider the bad chance of a mistake made in intelligence gathering.
Now what kind of terrorists are this who in their flight end up in such an apartment block? Is that proof of a high-level international network? It seems all very clumsy to me. Is this clumsiness, this lack of professional conspiracy to commit violence part of a larger strategy? (2)
I mean that someone clever has come to the insight that building a whole network – even by using a system of dispersed secret cells who do not know about each other – is an outdated concept. It is sufficient to pass on a general call to commit violent acts on non precise targets at no precise moments in time. Basing this method on the fact that it is not to difficult to get access to weapons and explosives, that some explosives can even be produced in a home laboratory or acquired indirectly through contacts within the building or mining industry (dynamite or similar type of explosives).
It may well be the case and that explains the great fear that did strike the conglomerate of state security systems. This combination of destructive acts based on a willingness for self-destruction do not fit the routines, strategies and tactics of state security organisations, of regular police control and all that comes with it.
A Washington Post article of November the 21. quotes an anti-terrorism specialist who sees it different:
“For such an attack, involving so many people, it must have been decided near the highest level,” said Claude Moniquet, a former French intelligence official who heads the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center. The Islamic State’s military operation, whose senior leaders include numerous former military officials from Iraq, “would never let someone below them direct a strategic operation.”
It is a known fact that officials tend to see all that what is a threat to the reigning system as a mirror image of the system they are part of, the system they believe in. Hence this ‘top down vision’ of Claude Moniquet. He sees a vertical line of command directly from ISIS in Syria. This analysis also supports the ‘revenge aerial bombardments’ that are presented to us as ‘legal self-defence’ targets (in spite of the fact that according to international law and the ‘charter’ (chapter 7) of the United Nations these bombings are not-legal).
I do not claim that my view of the danger of the unpredictability of ‘grass root terrorism’ is correct in this particular case, but the opposite can not be proven either. The amateur and clumsiness aspect can be supported by the cases of the shooting on French army personal and Jewish civilians in Toulouse and Montauban in 2012 (by Mohammed Merah) and the attacks on the Jewish Historical Museum in Brussels in 2014 (by Mehdi Nemmouche), remain open to multiple interpretations and ambiguity, ranging from ‘jihadism’ and ‘anti-semitism’ to ‘tribalism’ and ‘insanity’.
Consider also an article in Le Monde about the same siege in Saint Denis of November 18., concluding:
“…rudimentary logistics with neither a safe-house nor a support provider: one seems here to be far away from classical urban warfare.” (2)
The walls of this apartment building must have heard enough during the few days or hours when this group of terrorists stayed there. (We may say that they were not longer ‘alleged terrorists’, as they did fire back to the police, there was an explosion, though we can not know for sure (yet) what they had done before or were really planning to do). A justice spokesman has told the press an act on Charles de Gaulle Airport was on their agenda.
What else could these walls tell? What about the regular lives of all those living around there? What about the person who let these terrorist group in, what did he/she know? This last thing we might get to know soon. It always takes several days more than the ‘latest news’ to be sufficiently informed on such matters.
There is a pattern in the social strata of this new generation of terrorists. This means that there is also a pattern in the habitat where these people – who so easily sacrifice the lives of others and their own – live. When I have understood it well the places where they were born, lived and died are identical in social status. (3) In the case of the ‘safe-house’ of Saint Denis that house failed its function utterly.
What sadness to consider while at the same time being abhorred by the savage nature of the terrorist attacks related to this group.
I focus now on this black hole where was once a window, in the bullet puckered and cracked wall. Imagine the last thoughts of those been killed in this battle. Was there anything left of ‘the cause’ for which they had chosen to fight? Or had their choice to put their own life at risk, taken over as ‘a cause’ in itself? These questions remain open.
There is failure in understanding these wasted lives. It all ends in the black hole of what once was a window on the world from a house, in a street, in the Parisian suburb Saint Denis, however inglorious this direct view, there was a wide world of other opportunities beyond, which have now all vanished in this black hole.
(1) Trois terroristes sont morts dans l’assaut. Un homme (initialement présenté comme une femme), retranché dans l’appartement, qui a activé son gilet explosif, et un autre, touché par des projectiles et des grenades, dont les analyses ont ensuite conclu qu’il s’agissait d’Abdelhamid Abaaoud, instigateur présumé des attaques du 13 novembre. Après deux morts annoncées, les fragments d’un troisième corps, celui d’une femme, a été découvert dans la nuit de jeudi à vendredi. (three terrorists died in the assault. One man (initially presented as a woman), that hat withdrawn into the apartment, had triggered his bomb-vest, and another hit by projectiles and grenades, of whom analysis have concluded to be Abdelhamid Abaaoud, presumed instigator of the attacks of November the 13th. After these two deaths had been announced a third corpse, that of a woman, has been found in the night of thursday to friday.)
More sensational press agencies and news channels did make up their fantasy of a young ‘kamikaze woman’ like in the Daily Mirror with this long summing up header:
EXCLUSIVE: Extraordinary selfie of terror mastermind’s cousin shows girl blown up in Saint-Denis siege who never read the Koran, liked to drink and smoke and had a reputation for having lots of boyfriends
- Hasna Ait Boulahcen, 26, was killed by a suicide bomber during siege
- Screamed ‘Help me!’ before blast in which her head flew through window
- She was described by friends as an ‘extrovert’, and booze-loving party girl
- Neighbour said she smoked and ‘went around with lots of different guys’
- Her nickname was ‘The Cowgirl’ as she liked to wear big cowboy hats
(Many newspaper are still similar fantasy stories without correcting their the mistake )
(2) Le Monde had an article on this aspect of the Saint Denis siege ending with this conclusion:
Une logistique rudimentaire, sans appartement de repli, ni équipes en support : on paraît loin d’une guérilla urbaine classique.(rudimentary logistics with neither a safe-house nor a support provider: one seems here to be far away from classical urban warfare).
(3) See my images & notes on other similar examples: