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Paris Terror Attacks may have lasting effects

December 5, 2015

On the evening of 13 November 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in France`s Capital City, Paris, and its northern suburb, Saint-Denis. The series of attacks, in which 130 people were killed and 368 injured, involved mass shootings at cafés, restaurants and a music venue.

This was the deadliest act of terrorism in France since WW II, and in Europe since the Madrid train bombings of 2004.  For Paris, this was the second act of terrorism in 2015, since 17 people including civilians and police officers were killed in a similar attack in January 2015.

The Islamic State of Iraq, (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks.

The goal of terrorism extends beyond damage to a specific victim since it violates the sense of boundary and personal safety at a community level.

The rapid dissipation of trauma imagery has been shown to leave lingering stress-related symptoms, alterations in threat-perception, and curtailment of travel across a wide spectrum of the community. Terrorists have been shown to exploit the vast network of mass media to inflict fear and dread to all segments of society exposed to trauma imagery.

Former Head of Counter-Terrorism at M16 Richard Barrett in a report titled “Foreign Fighters in Syria”, estimates that over 12,000 foreign fighters have travelled to Syria since 2011. The  Dutch Intelligence and Security Security Service has warned of a rapid rise of  Salafism young second and third -generation young Muslim men and women in France, Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and the U.K. who travel to Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Somalia, where they are incubated, and trained in domestic terrorism, before returning to their European homeland.

According to European Intelligence Officials, returning Jihadists may lie dormant for months, but are among the most bloodthirsty terrorists, and pose a serious ongoing threat, considering Europe`s porous borders, and visa-free travel rights to the U.S.  Shifting demographics caused by millions of Muslims flooding into Europe, together with radicalization of young Muslims in local mosques, today pose the single greatest threat to all of Europe.

The process often begins with propaganda via internet and social media, then an appeal to support their “brothers” via donations, and subsequently a percentage of sympathizers are recruited to travel to one of several Islamic strongholds. Indeed, this is what happened with the Boston Marathon bombers.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has warned that “the West will pay for losing its backbone” as returning Jihadists begin to “turn their guns on us”.

Television audiences in particular tend to personalize the experience of horrific violence since they are deprived the opportunity of being debriefed or reassured about their personal safety.

What are the lingering psychological effects on populations directly exposed to atrocities the likes of the mayhem in Paris ?

Following the September 11 attacks, the Institutional Review Board of the New York Academy of Medicine conducted a survey  within 5-8 weeks of 1008 adults living south of 110th Street in Manhattan. The survey found that only 7.5% of respondents reported symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of PTSD, with a prevalence higher among respondents living south of Canal Street who were more directly exposed to the attacks (Sandro Galea et al, New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 346, 2002).

In the National Longitudinal Study substantial stress levels were found in a majority of New York residents in the weeks following the terrorist attacks. But the prevalence of a full PTSD diagnosis was only 17 % after 8 weeks and 5.8 % after 6 months (Roxane Cohen Silver et al JAMA, 2002).

Dr. James Rubin, from the Kings College Institute of Psychiatry in London performed a robust study of Londoners 11-13 days following the July 2005 terrorist attacks on the London mass-transit system, and again 7 months later. In the follow-up study (published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2007), 11 % continued to report substantial stress, 12% reported a heightened perception of danger, and 17% reported having shopped less during the holidays in Central London. Yet only 1% of respondents reported to have sought mental health counselling.

When studying the effect of terrorism on public health, instruments that used dimensional scales to measure varying degrees of sub-threshold stress reactions such as heightened stress, persistent sense of danger, and avoidance behavior (curtailment in travel), may turn out to be more valuable than whether or not survivors meet criteria for PTSD.

When studying traumatized populations, studies that use dimensional scales assessing life-quality, danger-perception, and travel-restrictions, may be more useful than those focusing on whether or not the respondents met criteria for PTSD, which is the most extreme response.


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