Image of ISIL fighters taken from Dabiq magazine [Al Jazeera]
Omar Ashour @DrOmarAshour (AJE)
Omar Ashour is Senior Lecturer in Security Studies at the Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies in University of Exeter.
Terrorist attacks by the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) affiliates and sympathisers over the past year have raised alarms in Europe, but they have not yet reached the frequency Europe
experienced in the 1970s, according to the Global Terrorism Database.
However, whereas previous waves of terrorism in Europe stemmed from internal conflicts, today’s deadly surge is linked to instability outside the continent.
Two modes of operation
The latest attacks are emerging from the political vacuum left by fallen dictators in the Middle East and North Africa.
So, just as there seems to be no end in sight for the violence in Syria, Iraq, and Libya, or for Egypt’s extreme polarisation, or for the fragile security situation in Tunisia and Algeria, there is little reason to believe that attacks in Europe will end anytime soon.
Terrorism: Learning to live with it
People are surprisingly good at coping with repeated terrorist attacks. In America and Europe, they may have to be
IT HAS been an edgy summer in France. Since the horror of Bastille Day, when Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhel killed 86 people in Nice, heavily armed soldiers have patrolled the beaches. In late July fanatical Muslims murdered a Catholic priest in Normandy. France remains in a state of emergency after gunmen affiliated to Islamic State (IS) killed 130 people in Paris last November. Next year’s presidential election threatens to be a competition over who can sound toughest on terrorism.
Last week Nicolas Sarkozy, a former president, launched his campaign to get his old job back. As well as calling for a national ban on the “burkini”, a modest swimsuit favoured by Muslims, he has proposed the detention or electronic tagging of potentially thousands of people who are on a list of Islamist-inspired security threats. If he wins his party’s nomination, Mr Sarkozy could be the less nativist of two second-round candidates for the presidency. The other would be Marine Le Pen of the National Front.
Germany, too, remains on high alert after two Islamist attacks and a shooting rampage by a mentally unstable teenager in July. It is boosting spending on its police and security forces. Eight state interior ministers from the ruling Christian Democrat party met on August 18th to back a raft of measures, including restricting dual citizenship for Germans of Turkish origin and banning the burqa. Some reports suggest that the government will soon advise citizens to stockpile food and water in case of a major terrorist attack.
In America, meanwhile, mass shootings in San Bernardino and Orlando have forced terrorism into the presidential race. In August Pew, a pollster, reported that Americans wanted Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump to spend more time debating how they would protect America from terrorism than debating the economy. Another poll conducted earlier this year asked the 83% of its respondents who said they followed IS news closely whether the group was “a serious threat to the existence or survival of the US”. No less than 77% agreed with this extraordinary suggestion.
The age of humdrum terror
September 11th, 2001 has remained an outlier both for its carnage and for its wider impact. Since then, Western security and intelligence services have become good at disrupting complex plots. Civil airlines have become dauntingly tough targets, albeit at enormous cost in money and travellers’ convenience. Fears of a terrorist group getting hold of a nuclear weapon have not disappeared. But nor has it happened, despite many predictions to the contrary.
And yet the number of deaths rises, both in America and Europe. Killers have ranged from the “lone wolf” attacker (attracted to the IS brand by its slick propaganda on the internet) to commando-style operations. Almost without exception, targets have been chosen for their vulnerability or cultural symbolism. Whereas some attacks have involved IS fighters who have returned home (something that security agencies have been warning about for several years) most have been the work of local sympathisers, often with social or mental-health problems, who have been nowhere near Syria.
Even when the caliphate is defeated in Iraq and Syria, as it surely will be, the threat to the West seems likely to persist. And the kind of attacks IS encourages are fiendishly hard to prevent. Anyone can rent or steal a lorry and drive it at a crowd. Especially in America, it is all too easy to buy high-powered automatic weapons that can kill scores of people in moments. Neither great planning nor great intelligence is required to carry out such attacks. Even when the perpetrators are on the radar of the police and security services—and by no means all are—there is no guarantee they can be stopped, given the sheer number of potential jihadists.