© 2024 WUTC
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Guards Watch Muslim, Jewish Sites As Dark Mood Descends On Paris


We begin this morning with a string of terrorism arrests across Europe. Police in Greece detained at least two men yesterday on suspected ties to terrorism. In Belgium, for the first time in three decades, there are paratroopers guarding buildings, just days after a raid in which two suspected terrorists died and one was wounded. And in France, where it all began less than two weeks ago with the attack on the offices of a satirical magazine and the siege of a kosher deli, officials there are looking for more suspects. NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is just back from Paris where she has been reporting on all this. She joins us now. Dina, what is the latest on the aftermath of the attacks in France?

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Well, the two brothers who were at the center of the attacks, Cherif and Said Kouachi, are being very quietly buried. French officials haven't announced when their burials will take place out of concern that there will be some sort of civil arrest, either from supporters, who might turn their graves into jihadi shrines, or from right-wingers, who have been agitating to stage anti-Islamist demonstration, which, so far, officials have banned. And the mood in Paris is pretty dark. Troops are still guarding key government sites. There are armed guards around Jewish neighborhoods and around some mosques. I mean, Paris officials think there was a cell of jihadis that was behind this attack, and they haven't just put a number on how many they might be looking for.

MARTIN: We've known for some time that law enforcement officials in Europe have been really concerned that people who had gone to fight in Syria and Iraq would then return to their home countries to carry out attacks. Is there any way to know how big this problem is?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, it's a big problem. While I was in Paris, the numbers for France alone were all over the place. Newspapers were saying there were as many as 5,000 jihadis there, which is just a crazy number. The numbers French officials use internally are 800-1,000, and that's people they believe have traveled to Syria and Iraq. Some of those people might be working in hospitals, some might be fighting with moderate forces, some might be with al-Qaida's arm there or with the so-called Islamic State. I mean, to give you comparable numbers for the U.S., U.S. intelligence officials say there are about 150 Americans who have traveled to Syria and Iraq in the past couple of years, and they say at least 12 are with the Islamic State, also known as ISIS. A handful of those 12 are back in America, and officials think they have a pretty good handle on where they are.

MARTIN: So the number of people going to fight with ISIS and returning is higher in Europe than it is in America, right?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yeah, the French problem is about 10 times worse than the U.S. one. The French will tell you they just don't have the manpower to follow that many people. The rule of thumb is that it takes about 10 people for every one person they track around the clock. So you can see how difficult the problem is. I mean, I was talking to one expert in Paris who said that he thinks that France and U.S. and other governments are really good at this point at identifying people who are dangerous. What they can't predict is which of those people are actually going to strike out an attack.

MARTIN: Like the Kouachi brothers, the men thought to be behind the magazine attack, they were being watched by authorities, but they didn't think they were a threat.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Yeah, they weren't particularly religious, but their radicalization was almost textbook. They started out as young hoods in the tough suburbs of Paris. Cherif ended up in prison. He followed a radical imam that he met there when he was behind bars. I mean, one of the amazing numbers I heard when I was there is Muslims make up between 50 and 75 percent of the French prison population. And I spoke to an investigating judge who prosecuted Cherif Kouachi, and he said he clearly hated Jews, but he didn't seem violent. Now, we'll have more on this as a part of a series we're doing later this week.

MARTIN: NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Thanks so much, Dina.

TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.