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ISIS has claimed responsibility for the Paris attack

A coordinated wave of bombings and shootings made this the deadliest terrorist attack in French history.

People light candles as they pay tribute, on November 16, 2015 in Marseille, to the victims of the attacks in Paris.
Anne-Christine Poujoulat/AFP/Getty Images
Zack Beauchamp is a senior correspondent at Vox, where he covers ideology and challenges to democracy, both at home and abroad. Before coming to Vox in 2014, he edited TP Ideas, a section of Think Progress devoted to the ideas shaping our political world.

On November 13, 2015, a coordinated wave of bombings and shootings struck several locations in Paris. The attacks killed at least 129 people and wounded 352, making it the deadliest terrorist attack in French history. ISIS claimed responsibility.

Though the US and other countries are still investigating who was responsible for the attack, the French government has said it believes ISIS is responsible, and US intelligence says it has no evidence to the contrary.

If ISIS was behind the Paris attack, it would be the group’s first major attack on a Western target launched by the group itself rather than by locals merely inspired by ISIS propaganda. For most of its existence, the group has not devoted significant resources to planning or executing attacks outside of the Middle East. ISIS has had its hands full trying to take territory in Iraq and Syria, hold that territory against its many enemies, and set up a hard-line Islamic government in the land it controls.

As of right now, no one can really be sure as to ISIS’s motivation for such an attack. The most plausible theory, according to the Brookings Institution’s Will McCants, is that ISIS is trying to send a message to foreign powers: If you bomb us in Iraq and Syria, you will pay the price at home. France is part of the US-led coalition against ISIS, whose efforts have helped put the group on the defensive.

”They have lost something like 25 percent of their territory,” McCants says of ISIS. “I think it has made the calculation that it can no longer pursue its expansion strategy in Syria and Iraq without changing the calculations of the enemies currently halting its expansion.”

McCants cautions that this is far from clear yet, and it’s important to avoid jumping to conclusions. Moreover, saying ISIS “is responsible” for the Paris attacks could mean one of two things: ISIS planned the attacks from its base in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS followers in France were inspired by the group to launch the Paris attacks without direction from ISIS HQ. The motivation for the attack could look quite different depending on which of these two theories turns out to be true.