Kalashnikov assault rifles. Plenty of ammunition. Molotov cocktails, a grenade, a death-dealing Skorpion machine pistol and a few handguns. Plus a revolving light that could be placed on a car roof to make it look like an undercover police car.
The list of weapons — along with a jihadi flag — carried by the French Muslim terrorists who launched the Charlie Hebdo attacks is frightening, especially given al-Qaida’s warning of further such assaults. And it also represents a striking change for western Europe, where gun crime is far more rare than in the United States.
The relatively heavy weaponry — a staple of recent attacks — seems to indicate that terrorist networks are moving away from bombs in favor of military-grade assault rifles and machine guns backed by smaller automatic pistols.
The mini-arsenal police found after the final shootout with brothers Cherif and Said Kouachi even included an advanced rocket launcher — with a loaded rocket ready for firing.
The movement toward use of heavy weaponry instead of bombs was evident with the 2012 attack that killed three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi, and three paratroopers in Toulouse, France — as well as the 2014 killing of four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by a terrorist with a Kalashnikov.
“The violence is becoming more focused at specific groups, Jewish targets, military targets, police targets, and they are using complex multiple armed assaults that are just as effective and much easier to do than explosive devices,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism specialist with the Swedish National Defense College.
He said the trend started when terrorist strategists saw the relative success of the 2008 raid in Mumbai. A small group of well-armed, well-trained commandos was able to paralyze a major city for several days, leaving more than 160 dead. Counter-terrorism officials warned at the time that the successful tactics would catch the eye of other plotters looking for a more reliable alternative to homemade explosive devices.
Western intelligence agencies fear terrorists may now be plotting still more attacks using relatively simple, low-tech tools.