Could an ISIS attack happen in U.S.?

Posted at 8:28 AM, Nov 16, 2015
and last updated 2015-11-16 08:28:45-05

The biggest news of the weekend was the ISIS attacks in Paris. Here are three articles from the weekend that added explanation and depth to what happened. I learned a substantial amount from these stories.

This piece from The Atlantic provides an immense amount of information about ISIS. My simplistic view of what ISIS is was way off. ISIS is a vastly different organization/movement from al-Qaida. This piece explains exactly what ISIS is and what the group's motivations are. It is a long piece but filled with important information. 

Vox had an article talking to an expert on Islam about why ISIS might have attacked Paris. One point that I think is crucial is we need to understand ISIS' goals of the attack before reacting. The expert points out something I had never heard before about 9/11. Here's an excerpt of what Will McCants, director of the Brookings Institution's Project on US Relations with the Islamic World, and the author of The ISIS Apocalypse, said:

The challenge for governments in responding to this kind of stuff is to wait until you know exactly what your enemy is trying to provoke you to do. If we don't know why ISIS did these things, we risk making some major blunders that play into its hand.

Think about 9/11. Al-Qaeda told us vaguely in the propaganda, "You're the crusaders, and we want to get you out of here." But the real strategy behind the attacks wasn't revealed for a few years, and they came from internal al-Qaeda memoranda that later surfaced. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, we didn't understand then that Al-Qaeda was dearly hoping for a large military deployment so that it could bog us down and win this propaganda war.

We made the right decision early on — that went against al-Qaeda — by going in Afghanistan. But we made a different decision in Iraq, and it played into their hands. There's a similar worry here, and without knowing exactly why ISIS undertook these attacks, we risk dancing to their tune.


Finally, after watching the Paris attack coverage I think it is natural for us to wonder if this type of ISIS attack could happen here in the U.S. The New York Times published an opinion piece by two experts: Steven Simon and Daniel Benjamin, scholars at Dartmouth College and authors of “The Age of Sacred Terror.” Simon and Benjamin argue that the risk of an ISIS attack here is low.

Mike Canan is editor of Contact him at Follow him on Twitter or Instagram at @Mike_Canan.