Paris Terrorist Attack Provides a Stark Reminder of Violent Terrorist Tactics


The violent terrorist attack in Paris reminds us just how quickly an attack can occur

Viewing video clips of today’s brutal terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo Magazine office in Paris provides a striking reminder of how brutal and efficient modern terrorist attacks can be.  Watching the video of a heartless execution of a wounded police officer provides some insight into just how violent the attack on the journalists inside the building must have been. While we must use caution when making such comparisons, attacks on any civilian target can help provide insight into how terrorist attacks on schools and school-related targets can be.

We have seen a number of terrible terrorist attacks on schools and school-related targets around the world in recent years. Dr. Shepherd’s visit to schools in Nigeria in the wake of a series of terrorist attacks on schools there was sobering to say the least. Schools are also often impacted by terrorist attacks on other targets. One of our client Christian schools had two parents brutally murdered and two students seriously injured in a terrorist attack at the Westgate Mall in Kenya. Tragically, both students watched their parents die and only survived by playing dead next to their bodies. A teacher and a dozen students were thankfully able to survive the same deadly attack but the event has naturally left the entire campus community stunned.

There are definite changes in the nature of terrorist attacks in general as well as in incidents of school terrorism in recent years. Our extensive research for Innocent Targets – When Terrorism Comes to School provides a considerable contrast with what we have been seeing in the past few years. For example, the combination of firearms and fire in a number of school terrorism incidents in Africa are of concern to us. This is especially true since many people have become so intensely focused on firearms attacks in American schools. Our analysts have noticed that many schools are less prepared for hazardous materials incidents, radiological incidents, events involving explosives, hostage situations and a number of other types of events relevant to past school and school bus terrorist attacks. We have the same concerns when it comes to far more frequent and likely types of school crisis events such as common medical emergencies.

We also frequently remind people that the two most lethal acts of violence on K12 campuses have involved an attack using fire and an attack utilizing explosives. More victims died in the 1958 Our Lady of Angels Sacred Heart’s School fire than in every K12 active shooter incident in the history of our nation – combined.   We feel it is extremely dangerous to focus the majority of our prevention, preparedness or response efforts to any one type of school crisis event.

While we make no predictions of specific types of terrorist attacks for U.S. K12 schools, a number of our analysts feel the risk of school-related terrorism is higher now than it was a decade ago. We urge school and public safety officials to emphasize the all-hazards approach to school crisis planning to address the potential for school-related terrorism as well as the many other much more likely yet deadly types of school crisis events.

About Michael Dorn

Michael Dorn serves as the Executive Director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit school safety center. The author of 27 books on school safety, Michael’s campus safety work has taken him to 11 countries over the past 34 years.