While we still don't know the full story of how the Paris attacks came about, the broad outlines are becoming somewhat clear. It seems the attacks were carried out by seven or eight jihadis in three groups. They seem mostly to have been French or Belgian citizens with a base in Brussels, perhaps involving three brothers.
There are some disturbing aspects of the attacks. The first is that the terrorists don't need to attack planes, trains, airports, stations or other transportation facilities as has been their choice in the past. To strike terror one doesn't even need bombs. Although the numbers are not yet clear it seems as if a few men with AK 47s were able to slaughter many innocent civilians in a very short time in a part of Paris where people were out enjoying meals, music and fellowship. Although all of the assassins apparently had suicide belts they didn't really need them in order to inflict huge carnage, and install fear and terror in the civilian population. This doesn't bode well for the future. Just a few AKs in the trunk of a car is all that is needed for this sort of attack. Suicide vests, also easily transported, add to the lethal and terrorizing power.
Another disturbing fact is that most of the killers were French or Belgian citizens and that they were able to avoid interception by the security services of the French state which apparently enjoy greater powers of surveillance than most other Western countries. We should remember this when other governments ask for even more intrusive powers than they already have.
France has a greater problem with its Muslim population than most other European countries. This I think in part is a consequence of the Algerian war of the 1950s and 60s. It was a vicious brutal war with atrocities on both sides. Many French felt that they had been sold out when De Gaul agreed to peace talks with the FLN leading to eventual independence. Remember the OAS and the Algerie Francaise factions in France. There were fears of an army mutiny and more than one attempt on De Gaul's life. When the war ended many (900,000) pieds noir (ethnically French Algerians) and a smaller but still significant number (about 90,000) of ethnic Algerian harkis (who had served in the French army fighting to keep Algeria French) sought safety in France. The French government sought to restrict the entry of the harkis in spite of the fact that those who remained in Algeria were frequently tortured and murdered by the FLQ or by lynch mobs. It was a huge betrayal that led to a perpetual sense of resentment. As the Wikipedia article on the war puts it "The abandonment of the "Harkis" both in terms of non-recognition of those who died defending a French Algeria and the neglect of those who escaped to France, remains an issue that France has not fully resolved".
This population of once-loyal Algerians formed the nucleus of the Algerian population in France, and there has been a strong sense of resentment and betrayal in that community ever since then. Couple this with a mutual sense of resentment from many of the native French population (no doubt exaggerated by the influx of the pieds noir) and the difficulty for Algerians and other Muslims from former French colonies of obtaining good jobs and acceptance in the society and one has a very volatile and unstable situation. Recall the riots of a few years back when cars were burnt; and many of the banlieus, where many of the Muslim population reside, became essentially no-go zones for the police. All of this occurred without the outside influence of the wars that have plagued Iraq, Syria and Libya in the twenty-first century and before the rise of Al Qaeda and ISIS. This community is an ideal recruiting ground for murderous jihadi organizations.
Compared to other European countries (save perhaps Belgium) France has been much less successful in integrating its Muslim minorities. I think the bitter legacy of the Algerian war is a major reason for this. Sad to say, I also believe that there is also a strong streak of racism among the French. I don't know much about Belgium but I suspect that the strong links between French-speaking Wallonia and France itself means that attitudes in France carry over to Belgium.
And I believe it is for this reason that ISIS has made France its number one European target. I suspect it is not that France is bombing ISIS in Syria (after all many other countries are involved in that), but simply the fact that there is such a large pool of potential assassins and networks of sympathizers in France, that it makes it is much easier for them to carry out attacks in France than elsewhere.
The Charlie Hebdo attacks of last January were not organized by ISIS nor were the many "lone-wolf" small-scale murders carried out, especially against Jewish targets, in France and Belgium.
While ISIS and other jihadi movements are a threat to much of the world, especially the Arab world, the threat to France looks particularly strong. France's future looks very bleak.
Post Script. After posting this blog I came across this article by Robert Fisk of The Independent. What he says reinforces my argument. He also points the finger at Saudi responsibility. Its worth reading.