Unless you just came out of a coma this morning, you've seen the news from France. Last Wednesday, gunmen attacked the offices of a weekly satirical publication, Charlie Hebdo, killing a dozen people, including four of its writers and cartoonists. The alleged offense that provoked this murderous response was the publication of a few cartoons to which the gunmen took exception poking fun at Muhammad.

The gunmen believed it was their religious obligation to avenge the insult – in blood. As French police converged on the shooters' hideout on Friday, a second attack took place on a kosher grocery store, where there were four more murders, this time of Jewish shoppers preparing for the Sabbath. All in all, 20 people died, including a policewoman and the gunmen who launched these attacks.


It's impossible for us to conclude anything other than that these attacks were the work of terrorists. As of late last week, no group had claimed responsibility for the murders, but the close timing of Friday's grocery attack with the shootout that led to the killing of the Kouachi brothers, the trigger men at Charlie Hebdo's offices, suggests that the attacks were well-planned and coordinated. Cherif Kouachi's ties with Al Qaeda were well-established. He had a long history of radical activity, had spent time in jail with men convicted of terrorist activities and was associated with a group that sent men to fight with Al Qaeda against U.S. forces in Iraq. French authorities reported that Said Kouachi had spent time in Yemen. These two brothers were determined to become martyrs for their cause and had ties to others who shared their murderous intent.

The small size of the force that spread these horrors across Paris is a lesson for all of us. Terror organizations have no problem recruiting people to conduct essentially no-cost suicide missions in any large city in Europe or North America. Even with the CIA's extensive surveillance capabilities, we just do not have the resources to find and monitor the activities of all those willing and capable of launching an attack on government buildings, airports or even a major sporting event. We have been lucky to avoid these kinds of attacks since 9/11. Our luck won't hold out forever.

If anything good could possibly come from the attacks, it's that the press in Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran has also tried to distance those countries from the murders committed in the name of Islam. To be sure, the Islamic world accused the French of bringing the attack on themselves, but the official paper of the Iranian government headlined the story with "Bloody Show of terrorists in Paris," as they condemned Islamist extremists. This doesn't make Iran allies of the French or of the United States, but nonetheless, condemning the attacks is a hopeful step.

Hamas, itself no stranger to terrorist activities, condemned the French attacks, saying "any differences of opinion are no justification for killing innocents."

Saudi Arabia declared the attack was a "cowardly terrorist attack that was rejected by the true Islamic religion," According to The Guardian, a half-dozen other Arab countries issued similar statements. It's significant that the Saudis would say this, as Saudi Arabia is one of the most religiously conservative Sunni states whose Wahhabi sect practices a particularly extreme form of Islam; this is the cult that produced Osama bin Ladin,

The fact that so many Muslim states are distancing themselves from the attacks in France may signify a tipping point has been reached. The majority of the Muslim world may now accept that those who kill and spread grief and horror across Africa, Asia and Europe (and who would like to do more of the same here) in the name of Islam do more damage to Islam than they do to their victims. Groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula have murdered many thousands of innocents without evoking the passionate response last week's attacks in Paris have. The Western world would do well to take this as an opportunity to drive a wedge between the extremists and the states that abet them.

Mitch Edelman writes from Finksburg. Email him at mjemath@gmail.com