ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Obama has said this appears to be a terrorist attack, and NPR's counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is with us. She has been talking with investigators and law enforcement officials in the U.S. and France. Hi, Dina.
DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: Hi, there.
SHAPIRO: What signs do experts point to to say that this is likely a terrorist attack?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, for one thing, this kind of attack was outlined almost precisely in Inspire magazine a couple of years ago. Inspire, just to - so you recall - is al-Qaida's sort of in-house online magazine that's supposed to inspire followers of terrorist groups. And in that magazine, it suggested that if you wanted to do something to hurt the crusaders, to hurt the West, you drive a truck through a mall and then you start shooting at pedestrians. And it is eerily similar to what appears to have happened this evening in Nice.
SHAPIRO: Do authorities have any idea who is responsible for this?
TEMPLE-RASTON: It's too early to tell. I think that there is certainly a sense among authorities - I was at a law enforcement - international law enforcement meeting a couple of months ago. And they were talking about the possibility of there being more attacks in France. And in particular, there was a sense that it wouldn't focus on the Euro soccer matches, which is what I think outsiders probably thought that would be a keen target. But the French authorities felt that they really had that quite secure and it would be hard to sort of lash out at that. And what they were thinking instead was that there would be something that would happen after the soccer matches against some sort of soft target that would sort of target the way French vacation, to ruin their summer holidays. And this certainly falls in that category.
SHAPIRO: Why France? This is the third major attack in less than two years.
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, this is because so many French people have left France and gone to Syria. They have 1,200 people who have left, and about 250 have come back. And to give you an idea of scale, just to follow one person around the clock takes between 10 and 12 police officers. So you can imagine if 250 come back, it's basically impossible to keep an eye on all of them.
SHAPIRO: What kind of security apparatus had French officials already put in place after the previous attacks?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, after the November 13 attacks, there was - there were changes in laws. There were some preemptive detentions. They were watching people more closely than they had in the past. They were trying to get a handle on the people who had returned and where they were. All those things were going on, and certainly as a guest have already said this evening, there was an incredible amount of security. Everywhere you looked, there seemed to be security. And that is one of the techniques that terrorism officials use to try and discourage people from attacking, to basically show there is a use of force here. If you try an attack, they will take you down quickly.
SHAPIRO: You've talked about how this was not a high-profile target. This was a truck driven into a crowd of people. How does that fit into the larger pattern of terrorist attacks that we've seen not only in France but globally over the last few years?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, terrorism is all about violence with a political message. And the important thing about terrorism is for them to strike where you least expect it. So you're always frightened. I mean, the guest you had just before this, the American who was in Nice, and he said that he was watching the final match with his wife in this big crowd and suddenly they looked at each other and thought this might be a target. We should watch it somewhere else. That's precisely what terrorists are looking for, that sort of innate fear even if nothing happens.
SHAPIRO: And is this a sort of attack that can never be entirely prevented? I mean, if authorities want to take steps to stop something like this from ever happening again, what kind of steps would one take?
TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they used to say this when I was a White House correspondent that they only needed to have someone be lucky once when they tried to shoot a president or shoot some sort of official. But law enforcement officials have to get it right every time. There's zero tolerance. And that's one of the problems when it comes to terrorism is, well, you can't prevent anything. You can just - everything. You just have to make it harder.
SHAPIRO: That's NPR counterterrorism correspondent Dina Temple-Raston. Thank you, Dina.
TEMPLE-RASTON: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.