Area expert: Attack tries to cut ‘heart of western civilization’

Springfield residents part of travel group in Paris when attacks began.

The City of Light was a darker place Saturday, a day after a series of coordinated terrorist attacks, according local terrorism experts and those in Paris with ties to southwest Ohio.

Former Yellow Springs resident Judith Wolert-Maldonado, 45, lives two blocks from the Bataclan concert hall in Paris’ 11th Arrondissement. Four men entered the hall Friday evening armed with AK-47 assault rifles and opened fire while an American band performed.

In about 20 minutes the four inflicted the worst carnage of the eight attackers believed responsible for six attacks.

After wrapping up work for the day on a film, Wolert-Maldonado, in Paris studying cinematography, tried to get home on the subway when a friend called to warn her of the bloodshed and hostage situation near her home.

“On the Metro, people were quiet and everyone was looking at their phone,” she said. “It was eerie. No one was talking. It was very hushed. People were scrolling frantically through their phones to try to figure out what was going on.”

As French police continue the investigation, Wolert-Maldonado is staying with friends in another neighborhood.

“It’s a very sad time. These attacks, because they happened in multiple places and because they happened in popular places … was more stunning and terrorizing to the Parisian public than Charlie Hebdo,” she said.

Wolert-Maldonado attended, along with thousands of Parisians, public vigils for those killed in January at the headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, the satiric magazine. The French government announced three days of mourning for the latest victims but requested citizens not gather in large groups for vigils.

French President Francois Hollande called the Friday attack an “act of war” by Islamic State attackers.

The attack was a calculated escalation of strikes against western targets, but ISIS didn’t go after Paris’ most visible targets like the Eiffel Tower or Louvre, said Glen Duerr, an assistant professor of International Studies at Cedarville University.

“I think they are trying to send a signal to cut out the heart of western civilization,” Duerr said. “In terms of timing, I’m guessing it was opportunism. They had the people in place at a certain time.”

A group of tourists from the Miami Valley made it to the base of the Eiffel tower Saturday where soldiers with stood guard, said Jerry Newport, 65, of Springfield.

The attacks came as Newport and his wife Su-Ann had just started a three-day stint in Paris after completing a river cruise with about 10 others from the Springfield area. The Newports and others were at a jazz club Friday when terrorists carried out the multiple strikes across the city.

He described the city a day following the attack as “somber.”

“France is pretty much closed,” he said. “Everything has been canceled.”

Though many of Paris’ iconic landmarks remained shuttered Saturday, he said the group was able to venture out on a limited bus tour.

“The monuments were just heavily guarded. We saw police and army soldiers all over with automatic weapons and they had certain areas that were barricaded,” Newport said. “You could sort of see where the hot spots were where they appeared to be making some searches.”

For now, the group is staying in a hotel not far from the Eiffel Tower, Newport said. However, they are unsure what travel out of France will be like Monday when some have return tickets.

Similar to the United States’ experience on 9-11, the Paris attack stalled flights in and out France. Also similar to 9-11, the attack represents a lack of known terrorist information, said Donna Schlagheck, professor emeritus and former chair of the Political Science Department at Wright State University.

That President Hollande was out in public and inside one of the locations ISIS attacked points to a “massive intelligence failure,” said Schlagheck, a terrorism expert.

The attacks killing at least 129 and injuring more than 350 coincide with massive immigration tensions in Europe, a trip to Istanbul by President Obama to discuss how to combat ISIS, and a major climate summit in Paris in two weeks, she said.

“By virtue of just those three dots shows how interconnected this threat is,” Schlagheck said.

Schlagheck said she fears an eventual backlash against immigrants, many Muslim, “whether they are currently in transit, fleeing their homes, or whether they have been living in a Paris suburb since the Algerian War.”

Wolert-Maldonado is a former Dayton Daily News photojournalist who lived in Yellow Springs for 20 years. She said she comes from a family that immigrated to the United States and now finds her Paris neighborhood more interesting due to the diverse community living there, including those practicing Islam who may be among the victims.

“Muslims were also killed. I think people are trying to keep religion out of this and seeing the violence for what it is, at least here locally,” she said. “I’m sure on a bigger picture it’s seen differently with a different lens. Obviously there are many factors involved, but locally people are just devastated at the loss of human life.”

Walking back from the Eiffel Tower on Saturday, the Newports stopped at a deserted shop to make a purchase for one of their daughters.

“She wanted perfume from a real Parisian perfume shop,” Jerry Newport said.

The shop owner, a young woman who appeared to be in her 20s, asked the Newports if they were Americans, “which was obvious I’m sure to anyone,” Jerry said.

“We told her we were sorry about the attacks and then she teared up and started crying,” he said. “Su-Ann took her hand and tried to comfort her. Everybody’s just somber and sad.”

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