As Paris Recovers From Attacks, Russia Confirms Bomb Caused Airliner Crash

Nov 17, 2015
Originally published on November 17, 2015 7:44 am
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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

I'm in our makeshift studio here looking at the Rue Saint-Lazare, a boulevard outside. A lot of people are walking up to the corner to the busy metro stop. For another day, the city looks like it is going through the normal routines of a workday. But you just talk to people, and they are living in fear that Friday's attacks were just the beginning. And it's not just Paris. As we've been hearing elsewhere on the program, police in the United States are bracing for a possible attack from ISIS. A video surfaced yesterday - unverified, but reportedly from ISIS - warning of an attack on U.S. soil, possibly in Washington, D.C. We think about that possibility. We think about the attack on a Russian jetliner. We think about the twin bombings in Beirut. Our counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston says it's becoming increasingly clear that ISIS has a strategy to bring its violence outside its base in Syria and Iraq. So new this morning, the Russian government has finally acknowledged that a bomb did bring down that Russian jetliner over Egypt last month. It's the first time Russia's leadership has said what the U.S., Britain and other nations have been saying for two weeks now - that terrorists caused the crash that killed all 224 people on the plane. NPR's Corey Flintoff joins us on the line from Moscow. Corey, good morning.

COREY FLINTOFF, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So how was this announcement made to the Russian people?

FLINTOFF: They did it in a rather theatrical way. We saw a televised meeting where the head of the Federal Security Service, Alexander Bortnikov, reported to President Putin that the crash was caused by what he called a homemade explosive device. He said experts determined that it was a foreign-made explosive equal to about two pounds of TNT. He didn't explain what the term foreign-made meant or what it might imply. Putin responded by saying that Russia will hunt down these attackers in, as he put it, any place on earth and punish them.

GREENE: Well, any indication why Russia waited so long to announce this finding and also why they're deciding to do it right now?

FLINTOFF: Not directly. But Putin also said that Russia must intensify its bombing campaign in Syria - in his words - so these criminals realize that retribution is inevitable. In that sense, he's creating a direct link between the attack on the plane and Russia's military action in Syria. The United States has said that Russia's airstrikes in Syria have been hitting rebels opposed to President Assad far harder than they hit ISIS. So Putin's words now may indicate that ISIS will be more of a target. And it may also be that the terror attacks there in Paris created an environment where Putin could now more openly say, well, we were hit by the terrorists too. And this is another reason why the West and Russia should cooperate in Syria.

GREENE: All right. That's NPR's Corey Flintoff speaking to us from Moscow. Now as we said, the downing of that plane might have been one of the first signs that ISIS was ready to take its fight to the international stage. Next came Beirut and bombings that killed 43 people and wounded 200 others. Less than 24 hours after those bombings in Beirut, the world's attention shifted here to Paris. And now because of ISIS, there is this shared grief across borders. Elie Fares is a 26-year-old doctor in Beirut, and he was shocked by the Paris attacks. He has friends and family here.

ELIE FARES: It was beautiful to see that many people gather around the entire world and light up their candles or light up their buildings in the colors of the French flag. But then again, once you put that in perspective of the fact that my own city was torn apart less than 24 hours prior, it puts a huge question mark on what type of response do we as humans do when we face mayhem or when we face chaos?

GREENE: Now, it has been a relatively peaceful year in Lebanon, but that is a country sadly accustomed to violence after 30 years of civil war. And Elie Fares says that makes his reaction to Paris different.

FARES: When an explosion happens in your own backyard and your reaction is all right. It happens. We will move on - versus an attack happening in Paris and your reaction is that's - oh, my God, I'm devastated. Contrast and compare between both and it shows that you as a Lebanese or as an Arab care more about Paris even though your own backyard touches upon you personally. It's your own home.

GREENE: Fares says the candles and shrines dedicated to the victims in Beirut are slowly disappearing now, though here in Paris, there are still makeshift memorials all across the neighborhoods that were targeted in this city. Also in Paris, there is a growing fear among the large Muslim community of the city. Some are wondering if there could be a backlash after Friday's attacks here. And let's turn to my colleague, Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Most Muslims I've spoken to here over the past few days get nervous when asked about how the terror attacks might affect them down the road. Take these North African migrants in Montreuil, east of Paris.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking French).

NELSON: "They aren't Muslim," they say of the terrorists. "We have nothing to do with this." Montreuil is the same community where several gunmen in Friday's attacks abandoned their car.

MARIAM DOSSO: (Speaking French).

NELSON: "Absolutely not," says resident Mariam Dosso. When asked if she should apologize for the terrorists just because she's a Muslim, she adds, "French society is smart enough to know that Muslims here aren't terrorists." Even so, many French Muslims fear recrimination. Frederic Hoffman, who is not Muslim, understands. He owns a creperie in the Paris neighborhood where 15 people dining down the street were gunned down.

FREDERIC HOFFMAN: I was just talking to a neighbor who's a glass cleaner, and he is Muslim. And he's come from Sudan, I think. He was devastated because he knows that he's going to have less work, maybe people will show a bit of distress towards him, probably. And yes, he's afraid.

NELSON: And there's reason to be because of the country's growing right wing that benefits from Islamaphobia, says French journalist and cartoonist Mohamed Sifaoui.

MOHAMED SIFAOUI: (Speaking French).

NELSON: He says more needs to be done to root out Islamic extremists. Lawyer Asif Arif is the spokesman for the Paris Office of the Ahmadiyya Muslim sect.

ASIF ARIF: You're always worried because whenever things like this happen, you're always thinking that, oh, we pray God that this is not a Muslim. It pains us as a Muslim because we do not consider them as Muslim.

NELSON: But Arif says dismissing the terrorists as nonbelievers is not enough. He says the leader of his sect encourages them to go out in their communities and correct misperceptions about Islam created by extremists. Arif's group also advocates something more radical - increased state monitoring of French mosques.

ARIF: We think, for the sake of Muslims, this is good to watch out what is happening in mosques because we need to know which mosque is pushing people towards radicalization and they need to close these mosques.

NELSON: Arif says it's not in anyone's interest to have such clerics preaching. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Paris. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.