Well it was a mere five hours from the time of my previous post before I was proven wrong. The name of the attacker was released shortly after I went to bed. If I had my wits about me I would have added a question mark at the end of the title and been more careful to couch my theme as a tentative hope.
The first post discusses the re-emerging threat of Al Qaeda as Islamic State suffers battlefield reversals.
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Jihadis are using vehicles to commit atrocities as military defeats degrade their ability to mount anything more ambitious
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The veteran rival of Isis – al-Qaida – has long backed such actions and has also repeatedly targeted London. In 2005 the group commissioned and trained the leader of the 7/7 plotters who went on to kill 52 on the London Underground.
When such attacks became logistically difficult, al-Qaida sought to execute or inspire smaller scale operations, although its leaders rejected a suggestion that blades be attached to a tractor which would be driven through a crowd. However, al-Qaida publications did encourage strikes using vehicles.
Britain’s only Islamist-related terrorist casualty since 2005 was Lee Rigby, an off-duty soldier who was killed in south-east London in 2013 when he was run down by a car driven by two Islamic militants and then stabbed to death.
The threat has increased “exponentially” since 2011, security officials have said. As Isis disintegrates, al-Qaida remains resilient and while the Islamist extremist ideology continues to attract new followers the threat will not decline substantially in the near future.
The second article I found interesting for its analysis of the wording used by Islamic State and what it reveals about the weakness of the movement.
A vast proportion of attacks over the 16 years since 9/11 have involved local volunteers attacking local targets
The news that the London attacker was born in Britain and inspired by extremist Islamist ideology was entirely predictable, as was his criminal record.
The standout detail from the sketchy profile we have of Khalid Masood is his age: 52, nearly twice that of most contemporary attackers.
The attack was claimed on Thursday by Islamic State. The group has been selective with such statements, which are credible, and careful in its vocabulary.
Significantly, Isis described a “soldier” who responded to its “call”, indicating the group probably did not have prior contact with Masood before the killings.
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Other words tend to be used to describe attackers like those who made up the network responsible for attacks in Paris and Brussels last year. They, for the most part, were trained, commissioned and dispatched by Isis planners after spending time in Syria.
One aim of Isis is to give the impression of global reach.
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Finally, the nature of terrorist trends gives a false impression. On Thursday a man was arrested for trying to drive a car into a crowd in Antwerp. He had a shotgun and bladed weapons. Tactics spread quickly across international frontiers. A global plot? Or simply the copycat effect? The latter is almost certainly the case.
The reality is that contemporary Islamic extremist violence has never been as international as often imagined by the terrorists or their victims. The 11 September 2001 attacks involved hijackers who flew thousands of miles from homes in the Middle East and lived in the US for months before striking. But this was an anomaly, though one that distorted thinking about the nature of the threat for a decade.
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There are exceptions. The Berlin attack before Christmas involved a transient Tunisian. A handful of the Paris attackers were from the Middle East.
Many of these men had previous involvement in serious and petty crime. For those already living on the margins of society and the law, the step towards violent activism is smaller than it might otherwise be. Prison is a key site of exposure to radical ideologies and people. Criminal contacts can provide essential – if often inadvertent – logistical help.
The significance of Masood’s age will later become clear. For the moment it simply underlines the variety of extremist profiles, and the unpredictability of the threat. Most Islamic militants have been between the ages of 18 and 35, with the average age declining in recent years. Some analysts see their attraction to radicalism as partly a generational rebellion. Violent rightwing militants tend to be much older. Thomas Mair, who killed MP Jo Cox last year, was 52.
Every case is, of course, unique. And the reality is that, much as all politics is essentially local, so is terrorism. Islamic extremist strategists have wrestled with this challenge to their global vision for years, and have yet to evolve an adequate response. Western experts argue interminably over whether the motives of individuals are 10% ideology and 90% local context or vice versa.
But the sad reality is that, though it may be reassuring to blame bad guys, or bad ideas, from a long way away for violence at home, no one should be surprised that the man who attacked one of Britain’s most symbolically charged locations was born in the UK.
Finally, an important article from a year ago explaining the reality behind the image of “the lone wolf”:
Terrorism is a social activity and the militants we encounter are often a product of a much broader environment – repeating the same tired tropes of jihadi thinking
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