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Britain picks itself up again

In the absence of a global coordinated response, policing solutions will struggle to contain terror

editorials Updated: Jun 06, 2017 09:59 IST
A police officer escorts members of the public, wrapped in foil blankets, towards The Shard in London on June 4, 2017, following a terror attack. Forty-eight people have been taken to hospital after a terror attack in central London in which six people died, the London Ambulance Service said Sunday.
A police officer escorts members of the public, wrapped in foil blankets, towards The Shard in London on June 4, 2017, following a terror attack. Forty-eight people have been taken to hospital after a terror attack in central London in which six people died, the London Ambulance Service said Sunday. (AFP)

The United Kingdom’s relatively strong record of preventing Islamicist terror is now in shreds with what seems to be the third such attack on its soil in as many months. However, if this attack was meant to impact the timing of the polls, it has not worked as the political establishment has decided to stay the course. This outrage is a stern reminder that no matter what a government’s record on counterterrorism has been, the past is no guarantee of the future. While it can cautiously be claimed that terrorist atrocities on a 9/11 scale are today unlikely, the present man-car-knife attacks are becoming ever more common – and remain all but impossible to prevent once in motion.

The logistical simplicity of such attacks and the body counts racked up by the Nice truck assault in France have made them increasingly popular. The present attack in London follows the increasingly common trend of ending an attack with knives or guns, and dying rather than surrendering at the end. Like the wave of airline hijackings that took place in the 1960s and 1970s, the use of trucks and cars as battering rams will probably continue. There is no evidence that the attraction of this mode of attack has peaked. However, as subsequent investigations have shown, “lone wolf” attacks are not as frequent as thought. Most such attacks emerge from a terror cell structure that is only now beginning to be understood.

What can be done to prevent such attacks is the question. It is possible to prevent the use of vehicles as explosives carriers by controlling chemical ingredients. It is next to impossible to do so if the vehicle’s fender is the murder weapon. Governments are also discovering many terrorist attackers are coming from the bottom end of their terror list of suspects. Possibly this is a result of a deliberate policy by terrorists. Inevitably more resources will be used to either surveil or simply place restrictions on very larger numbers of people, including their access to vehicles. The hope is these will be temporary measures and carried out only under strict guidelines and judicial review.

Sadly the Sunni Arab sense of political marginalisation that led to the rise of Al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the first place is unlikely to abate any time soon if the continuing chaos in West Asia and North Africa is any indication. The expected territorial collapse of the Islamic State will see thousands of its foreign fighters heading to Europe and elsewhere with instructions to cause mayhem on the home front. Terrorism is today more random but less spectacular than it was before. Unfortunately, policing solutions will struggle to keep up while political solutions will have to wait for a degree of global coordination that simply does not exist.