The terrorist wave of the 21st century, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks has, so to say, ‘institutionalised’ the phenomenon of terrorism. Post-9/11, this ‘new terrorism’ has engulfed many countries.
The current wave of terrorism has focused on western Europe. The last few years have seen deadly attacks in France, Belgium, Germany – the heart of western Europe, and England; England has seen a prolonged wave of terrorism in the last century. In the current wave, one could start with the July 7, 2005 London Underground attacks, killing 38. These attacks shook the island nation. This was the beginning. With a huge Muslim immigrant population, ripe to be radicalised for different reasons, one could assume local recruitment and sleeper cell activity.
Then came March 2017, and the Westminster Bridge attacks broke the lull. The incident was rather bizarre, carried out by an individual with the location also reflecting a new strategy. Isis called the attacker (Masood) a ‘soldier of the Islamic State.’ This attack brought terrorism to the forefront of national discourse in England. And there was more to come.
On May 23 in Manchester a suicide bombing at a concert claimed the lives of 22 people. This attack followed the pattern of the terrorist attacks in France. Isis claimed responsibility but this attack too was apparently carried out by an individual from an immigrant Libyan family.
And now on June 3 the London Bridge and Borough Market attacks followed the pattern of the Westminster Bridge attack – running a vehicle over pedestrians and stabbing but this time there were three assailants. The message of PM Theresa May was grim, “Our country fell victim to a brutal terrorist attack, once again.” This attack came as the British public prepared to go to the polls, and as Britain was hosting the Champions Trophy.
The above series of attacks was a combination of ‘new and old’ tactics. The locations were public spaces. And carried out by a single person, with a support network behind him. There needs to be more investigation behind the Isis claim of responsibility. But it is clear that for now Europe and Britain are on the terrorists’ target list.
Incidentally, the recent attacks follow the Islamic-US Summit hosted by Saudi Arabia, in which US President Trump highlighted the issue of terrorism and extremism in the Muslim world, and called upon America’s Muslim allies to address the issue seriously. The attacks carry a reminder for Western allies to be more serious and cognizant of the terrorist threat.
On a disturbing note, this gives President Trump reason to reassert his immigration restriction policy. In fact, the US Justice Department has asked American courts to lift the ban on restricting immigration from select Muslim countries. Trump now might feel he has a convincing case.
The recent attacks, including those in France and Germany, are reminders that the focus of the ‘war on terror’ has somewhat shifted to the West, to major cities where the terrorists can send a message rather easily. Local recruits, with somewhat tenuous links to terrorist apparatuses, Isis or others, are easy facilitators in the name of faith or for money. Just like Afghanistan and Iraq in the past, the Syrian conflict is a rallying call.
On the other hand, the agenda of terrorist is clear. There is a caveat: they lost Afghanistan and Iraq to Western powers and Syria is not to go the same way. The West’s ambivalence toward Assad and Trump’s cautious approach toward the whole issue is helping Isis getting its way in Syria.
Terrorist attacks, big and small, are symbolic messages and a reminder of the presence and power of new-wave terrorists. As a new wave, it’s a legacy of the post-9/11 (post-American) world. Western countries and systems have yet to devise a means to address the threat of ‘home-grown’ terrorism. One assumes there is more surveillance on the streets and at public places, but there is a need for more among the expatriate community, whether in Brussels or Nice or Manchester.
For now, the new wave of terror has found a niche around Western cities. This calls for a concerted effort to fight terror in its varied forms through a mix of pre-emption and containment.
The writer teaches at the Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.