Terror on the Cheap: The Challenge of the ISIS Paris Massacre
Policy + Politics

Terror on the Cheap: The Challenge of the ISIS Paris Massacre

REUTERS/Pascal Rossignol

Since the terror attacks in Paris last week, it’s become fashionable among politicians – particularly those hoping to win presidential nominations in the U.S. – to call for the stepping up the fight against ISIS by destroying not just the group’s military assets, but its funding sources as well.

ISIS funds itself through numerous methods, the most common being the constant shakedown of millions of people trapped within its so-called “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq. Another major funding source is the sale of crude oil from wells in areas it controls. While it’s probably possible to dramatically reduce the ability of ISIS to move and sell oil, there’s not a whole lot the current strategy of bombing ISIS targets can do about ground-level extortion.

Related: Can ISIS Save the Russian Economy for Putin?

In the end, if the object of the West is to prevent ISIS from launching more terror attacks like the one in Paris, focusing on the group’s finances isn’t going to do much either. That’s because the Paris attacks were, almost certainly, breathtakingly cheap.

In a story published yesterday, NBC news speculated that the entire cost of the operation – from acquiring several AK-47s and ammunition to renting cars, hotels rooms and other minor expenses – probably totaled less than $10,000. Counterterrorism officials contacted by NBC agreed that the figure was a plausible estimate.

That contrasts sharply with the iconic terror attacks that stand out in the minds of most Americans, the multiple assaults on September 11, 2001, which experts have estimated cost between $400,000 and $500,000.

But Americans, naturally focused on the largest terror attack in this country’s history, tend to have a distorted view of the amount of money and expertise that is really necessary to inflict massive harm and sow panic.

Related: Jeb Bush – We Need U.S. Ground Troops to Fight ISIS

Abdelhamid Abaaoud, the man who reportedly planned the Paris attacks and was subsequently killed in a police raid yesterday, is frequently referred to in the media as the “mastermind” of the attacks. However, suggesting that he was some sort of terrorist super-genius completely misses the point. This was a low-tech operation, with the exception of cell phones, using firearms that haven’t significantly changed in design since 1948.

The alarming truth about terror attacks is that they aren’t expensive, and don’t require attackers to have extraordinary capabilities.

Yes, it would be comforting to think that it requires some sort of Bond villain-like combination of brilliance and wealth to murder dozens or hundreds of people. Unfortunately, all it really takes is a few motivated street thugs with enough cash to buy black market automatic weapons.