The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, driven out of Mosul and fighting a losing battle in Aleppo, has struck again in Europe. Thursday’s butchery in the Spanish town of Barcelona follows a chilling pattern ~ the use of vehicles is now a fairly established strategy of the Islamist fundamentalists not merely in Europe, but further afield in Afghanistan as well.
If the vehicle is now integral to the terrorist arsenal, the tragedy in Barcelona is of a piece with not dissimilar outrages over the past year in France, Germany, Sweden and Britain. And conspicuously so in Nice on 14 July 2016 when 86 people were killed and 434 injured after a 19-tonne truck was driven into crowds on Bastille Day. It was a heartrending massacre on the anniversary of the French Revolution.
No less insidious was the incident on London’s Westminster Bridge on 22 March this year when a certain Khalid Masood, a British citizen, drove a car into pedestrians, killing several, and then fatally stabbed a policeman. The outrage happened in the vicinity of the bedrock of libertarian democracy.
The timeline across Europe does ignite a measure of shock and awe. Palpably enough, there is a thread that links the deeds of the ISIS in Barcelona to the latest Taliban outrage in Kabul ~ the militants seek no specific target. The loop has now been extended to Spain. The footsoldiers of ISIS are driven by a sense of calculated malevolence as they kill innocents with abandon across the world, not to forget the murder of 12 shoppers when a truck was deliberately driven into a Christmas market in Berlin last December.
Another unmistakable feature is that there is little or no discrimination in targeting, which explains why tourists are in the line of fire. A decade or so ago, Islamic militant groups sought to send specific messages through their violence. Random attacks against unarmed civilians were seen as ineffective, and even counter-productive in terms of garnering public support in the Muslim world.
The 9/11 attack was launched against targets seen by Al Qaida as symbols of US economic, political and military power. Sixteen years later, the depredations of the Caliphate are increasingly falling into a hideous praxis.
On closer reflection, no finetuned skill is required to drive a vehicle into a crowd. Small wonder that a car, van or lorry is an ideal “weapon” for today’s terrorists. Going by trends in the recent past, the critical change in strategy entails a broader shift towards attacking anyone, anywhere, anyhow. Particularly vulnerable, are tourists, whether in Nice, Westminster, or a beach in Tunisia.
Barcelona mirrors an awesome trend that Russia’s aerial bombardment in Syria cannot reverse.