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The Jihadist Attack in London

After the attack outside Parliament in London on March 22, four people died and more than 40 were injured. Heading toward the Parliament buildings, the assailant drove at high speed on the sidewalk of Westminster Bridge, mowing down pedestrians. Then he got out of the car wielding a knife, sprinted inside the Parliament gates, and managed to stab to death one policeman, before being overpowered. The Islamic State has praised the 52-year-old killer, who was born and raised in England, as one of its soldiers.

A few initial thoughts:

1. The attack in London resembles the ones last July in Nice, France, on Bastille Day and then at a Christmas market in Berlin, where the killers plowed trucks into crowds of people. Were the gates of Parliament in London sufficiently guarded? (Seemingly not.) Should the police manning the gates have been armed? (Yes, long ago.) But as I argued in The Hill after the Berlin attack, with each new kind of murderous attack, we patch one more security gap, harden yet more soft targets — and sometimes we thwart a plot, sometimes not. We will improve, but this Whac-a-Mole approach alone cannot eliminate the jihadist threat. To do that requires more than upgrades to security. It requires a fundamental mindshift, which I indicated in my article:

The place to start is by recognizing that we face not some nebulous threat from “terrorists” or “violent extremists,” but a distinct enemy: the Islamic totalitarian movement. We need to properly identify the nature of that enemy, what makes it tick and therefore how to stop it.

Read the whole article. Let me also recommend the fuller discussion of how to combat the jihadist menace in my recent book (co-authored with Onkar Ghate), Failing to Confront Islamic Totalitarianism, now in Kindle ($0.99) and paperback ($5.57).

2. The means of attack — an ordinary car; a knife — call to mind the recent wave of Palestinian terrorism. Since 2015, there have been 55 cases of Palestinians ramming cars into crowds of Israelis; and there have been 171 random stabbings (plus another 110 attempted knife attacks). Jihadist groups learn tactical lessons from each other. These Palestinian car-rammings and knifings may well have been an object lesson on how to enable attacks with untrained fighters. Cars and kitchen knives are unsophisticated weapons; they are easy to get hold of; and compared with shooting accurately, flying an airliner or making a bomb, they take no special training. For would-be jihadists, it’s no longer essential to travel to Pakistan, Syria or Iraq to attend bootcamp. 

3. The British attacker, Khalid Masood (formerly: Adrian Russell Ajao), may have acted alone — operating as a “lone wolf” — but that remains to be seen. Soon after the attack, police raided a number of houses around the UK and arrested several people. And although Islamic State claimed him as one of its fighters, it’s unclear how much and what kind of contact, if any, he had with the group. But it’s wrong to think there are a just two possibilities here — either he was a fighter dispatched from HQ or else a so-called lone wolf. Islamic State has begun adopting something called “remote-controlled attacks” which are “conceived and guided by operatives in areas controlled by the Islamic State whose only connection to the would-be attacker is the internet.” This “virtual planner” model greatly expands the group’s reach. Here’s a good summary by Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Madeleine Blackman of how it works.