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Press review Terrorism in Paris: ‘politicians should learn from 9/11’

A memorial outside the French embassy in Ottawa, Canada


Swiss newspapers have reacted, like those around the world, with shock and grief for the 129 people who were killed in Paris on Friday. But they are also bracing themselves for more violence, while hoping politicians will learn from “rash” reactions after September 11, 2001. 

“The year is ending as it began: with terror in Paris,” noted the editor of the SonntagsZeitung, referring to attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and a kosher supermarket in January. “Yet this time everything is different. Just 24 hours after the attacks the dominant emotion isn’t grief but anger. One thing is sure: this is war.” 

On Sunday, thousands of French troops were deployed around Paris and tourist sites remained closed in one of the world's most visited cities. Investigators questioned the relatives of a suspected suicide bomber involved in the country’s deadliest violence since the Second World War. 

The Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for Friday’s attacks on a stadium, a concert hall and Paris cafés that left 129 people dead and more than 350 wounded, 99 of them seriously. 

French President François Hollande vowed that France would wage “merciless” war on Islamic State and declared three days of national mourning that began on Sunday. He raised the nation’s security to its highest level and banned all public demonstrations until Thursday. 

He said France, already bombing Islamic State targets in a US-led coalition, would increase its military efforts to crush IS. 

“[Hollande] can do nothing else but strike out,” the SonntagsZeitung continued. “Without rapid, visible military success against Islamic State, the French people will no longer trust him to keep them safe. And if he doesn’t manage that, it will be hard for him to see out his term as president.” 

“Security first,” the paper concluded. “This is the sad realisation after a sad day in Paris. Things aren’t looking good for those of us who love freedom. We can only hope that [politicians] don’t proceed blind with rage like they did after 9/11, but rather with intelligence and caution. Otherwise the terrorists have won their war.” 

Freedom vs security 

French authorities laboured on Sunday to identify the suicide bombers and hunt potential accomplices still at large. They are particularly concerned about the threat from hundreds of French Islamic radicals known to have spent time in Syria. 

“The difficulty in fighting terrorism is that tanks and aircraft are useless,” said the NZZ am Sonntag. “Its potential for creating terror comes from the fact that from one second to the next all hell can break loose at a concert or while visiting a temple and it can strike everyone, from babies to pensioners.” 

The paper added that without increasing anti-terrorist methods, such as those that were developed in the United States after the 9/11 attacks, the security situation in Europe would not improve. 

“There must be more surveillance, more police controls. That requires a sense of proportion and intelligence on the part of those in charge, but the alternative would be seeing the horrific images from Paris at regular intervals. That would be unbearable.” 

The editor-in-chief of the Schweiz am Sonntag also wondered about the right balance between freedom and security, also making a parallel with the attacks of September 11, 2001. 

“It is not difficult to foresee the (so-called) advocates of more security getting a boost. More state power, more surveillance and limits on civil rights. That was the reaction after 9/11. Security hasn’t really improved, but freedom has been damaged,” he wrote. 

“Yesterday it was made public in Paris that one of the terrorists was known to the intelligence services – yet that didn’t prevent the attacks. Europe’s history shows that we do well when we don’t rashly sacrifice civil rights and liberties.” 

‘They won’t win’ 

All of France is currently enveloped in mourning. Flags have been lowered and Notre-Dame Cathedral – closed to tourists like many Paris sites – planned a special church service on Sunday for families of the victims. Well-wishers heaped flowers and notes on a monument to the dead in the neighbourhood where teams of attackers sprayed gunfire on café diners and concert-goers. 

“One’s heart and brain freeze with horror. So many dead, so much violence, so many stunned witnesses, so many innocent places ripped apart,” wrote the editorialist of Le Matin Dimanche in Lausanne. 

“Paris – a weekend city, next-door village – where one goes precisely for what the terrorists were targeting: shows, cultural or sporting events, squares filled with bistros. Can these pleasures remain ordinary in the years to come?” 

Parisian Quentin Bongard said he left one of the targeted cafés after a fight with his girlfriend just moments before the attacks. 

“Those are all places that I go to often,” he said, still shaken with emotion. “We just want to come here, bring flowers, because we don’t want to be terrorised ... but it is frightening.” 

Yet even in their grief, residents were defiant about the lifestyle that has made their city a world treasure. Olivier Bas was among several hundred who gathered late on Saturday at the site of the Bataclan concert hall massacre. Although Paris was quiet and jittery, Bas intended to go out for a drink – “to show that they won’t win”.

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