After the terrorist attack in Manchester that left 22 people dead and nearly 120 injured, most of them children, experts all over the continent are asking this pertinent question: is it possible to stop Islamist terror attacks striking intermittently in different European cities? Once again, another horrendous terrorist attack was carried out in central London late Saturday evening on 3rd June, killing seven pedestrians and leaving scores of others injured in what appears to be a low-tech terrorist attack carried out by three male suspects. Once again, a vehicle was used to ram into innocent people on London Bridge after which the attackers then fled to nearby Borough Market and stabbed innocent people. The attackers were killed by the police eight minutes after they had been called.
“Britain was put on the highest level of alert and Prime Minister Theresa May had ordered the deployment of military personnel to support the police to counter the immediate threat.”
After the Manchester attack, fear loomed over another possible terrorist attack, and therefore Britain was put on the highest level of alert and Prime Minister Theresa May had ordered the deployment of military personnel to support the police to counter the immediate threat.
By raising the national threat from severe to critical the British authorities had signalled that another attack was imminent. And unfortunately, it was. The terrorist attack in London is now the third major attack carried out in a span of just three months in the United Kingdom. This is not the first time Islamists have hit a soft target: Copenhagen, London, Paris, Nice, Brussels, Berlin, Stockholm, Manchester, and now London again.
This is no longer just a British issue but a European issue, as many European cities have been targeted. What is new however, is that in Manchester for the first time we saw innocent and defenceless children being targeted. In case of Manchester it was a deliberate attempt to kill children, especially girls, who were enjoying life and music, obviously not an acceptable behaviour in the eyes of those who adhere to the ideology of the jihadists. In London, it was an attempt to scare people enjoying life on a Saturday evening.
We have seen what ISIS has done to girls: they have abducted, raped and forced them into marriages at a very early age. Women are not given equal rights. It is time to spell out these differences, and our political leaders must start defining and explaining the threat we are facing, particularly in Europe, namely Islamist extremism. Naturally, we should avoid using sweeping terms and blatant incorrect explanations that blame the religion per se or the region. Not all those who live in Middle- Eastern countries like Libya or have Middle Eastern background, resort to the path of extremism. But a few do and we need to speak about it overtly without being afraid of offending the mullahs and clerics.
When Salman Abedi, a 22 year old home-grown jihadist, born and raised in Manchester, decided to blow himself up outside Manchester Arena, he was not the first one to do something like this. ISIS has now lost a considerable amount of territory in Syria and Iraq but they still have tremendous influence on thousands of young men and women. These youngsters tend to be active or passive members of various mosques in Europe where radicalization still occurs despite promises to either shut down these mosques or restrict the entry of jihadists, who come and influence the vulnerable, gullible and alienated population of primarily Muslim descent. And let us not forget, there are also converts to Islam committing terrorist attacks.
Thousands of young European men and women have left for Syria and Iraq to join ISIS and other jihadist movements, even though they have European passports. They are born and brought up in different European cities; some are marginalized, jobless youths who do not see a foreseeable future in the Europe, where they have not completed their education. Salman Abedi’s story resembles this characteristic. But there are also those who have completed their education, have well-paid jobs, and still decide to join jihadist movements, making it difficult to explain the radicalization of youths in Europe solely as a matter of alienation and exclusion.
According to Ali Soufan, a former F.B.I. agent and the author of a recently published book, “Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State”, the returning of these jihadists back into their country of origin in Europe is a matter of grave concern. We now know that Salman Abedi, son of Libyan parents, is believed to have travelled to Libya and Syria just days before carrying out his callous massacre. He was born and raised in Manchester, fitting the perfect example of a home-grown jihadist, a university dropout. This new example is scaring many anti-radicalization experts, as the number of unemployed youths without a university education is very high in many European countries. Abedi attended the local Manchester Islamic Centre, and every single European city has a similar centre. It then becomes concerning as to what is happening in these centres especially when no journalists or outsiders are permitted inside some of their premises.
There are hard lessons to be learnt after the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London. Previous terrorist attacks in European cities primarily targeted Christian markets, pedestrian streets and members of law-enforcement agencies. In Manchester, they exclusively targeted young girls.
It may sound simplistic, but Western European governments will have to make the vetting process tougher for those coming from Libya and Syria or penetrating the European borders from Turkey. European cities have been hit harder than American cities. Home-grown jihadists are travelling far too easily to war-torn regions of the Middle East and returning with ease having gained sophisticated knowledge of bombs and terrorist methods.
It goes without saying that this is one of the biggest challenges facing our politicians today.