The events in Nice last night have triggered another unwanted replay of saturation disaster news coverage and waves of dread pulsing through families and friends with loved ones in the South of France. Anyone who has been to Nice has strolled down the Promenade des Anglais and it is familiar to many across the world. This being the third major terrorist event in eighteen months the French could be forgiven for suffering from emotional exhaustion. France though is a mature democracy with broad shoulders and they will get through the trauma. The tragic fact is however, it is unlikely to be the last such event.
We do not yet know for certain that the Nice attack was perpetrated by an Islamic terrorist. The French Tunisian individual identified as the driver may have been mentally ill, high on drugs or hell bent on revenge for some perceived or actual sleight. Perhaps a combination of two or all of those factors may become apparent. Apart from petty crime the perpetrator had not been flagged as a radical and was unknown to security services.
As we are aware, so called ‘Lone Wolves,’ or ‘Stray Dogs,’ present security forces with very specific difficulties. They are often solitary and withdrawn individuals, frequently without ideological motivation, which makes identification through profiling difficult and clearly infiltration of potential targets, because of their singularity, is a non-starter. Given many are mentally ill they often come to the attention of the police and or health professionals prior to major incidents but that is very large haystack for security professionals to trawl through and monitor in order to identify the very few individuals who may then advance to mass murder.
Much will again be made of solitary attackers in the coming days and the threat will remain persistent. I have discussed them before but have avoided listing specific threats lest I unintentionally present some lunatic with a script. The threat however to the well-being of ordinary decent citizens goes beyond the Lone Wolf because the general terror threat is embedded in the EU.
The proximity of North Africa and Turkey to Europe, centuries of trade and colonialisation and waves of immigrants seeking work, education and advancement over generations has resulted in large numbers of Muslims living in Europe. Although some are fourth or even fifth generation immigrants many have not integrated and live in isolated Muslim dominated communities. For example, Matthew Levitt, the director of the Stein Program on Counterterrorism and Intelligence at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, noted in a recent Politico article that only eight of the 114 imams in Brussels speak any of Belgium's traditional languages.
The backdrop is not helped by the weak European economy which has impacted the Muslim population disproportionately and while the unemployment rate for young males on the Continent is very high, (ex Germany), the numbers for young Muslims should be a source of alarm. Alienation through economic disenfranchisement and an absence of any kind of mandatory assimilation through benefits-for-work type schemes provide the purveyors of violence rich pickings with which to pollute, twist and control minds. To combat radicalisation all European countries must accept that they must do more than ‘round up the usual suspects,’ and put soldiers on the streets in a show of force after major incidents. They must meet the extreme violence of terror with radical social and economic reengineering in order to drain the pond. Without confronting the worst truths of these societies the outlook will remain at it's bleakest.
The political impact of terrorism in France will gain momentum with an inevitable uplift for the right wing National Front and the centre right Republicans in next April’s elections. Both are critical of Schengen and the demand for greater national control of borders is anyway growing across Europe both because of terrorism and migration. It is also inevitable that the French will reach out for more support in their foreign anti Jihadist operations but are likely to receive a subdued response from other European nations who lack the will, the budgets and the expertise to field expeditionary forces.
They can hope though for renewed efforts in intelligence and information sharing but many countries in Europe are themselves hampered by their own fragmented security and intelligence structures not to mention entrenched privacy laws.
For individuals, the advice remains the same. Forget all that ‘business as usual; our lives will not be affected,’ hogwash from politicians who know no better. We live in an environment of elevated risk from multiple threats and citizens should adopt a poise of situational awareness wherever they are. That doesn’t mean constantly living on edge. It simply means being aware of ones surroundings and events. That is, tune in, never tune out. Always have the basis of an escape and action plan and remember, an air of superior laissez-faire indifference is no defence against 7.62mm rounds and flying glass. You can read more here in Stay Safe.