Despite progress, France still the number one terrorist target in Europe

More than any other European nation, France has militarized its response to terrorism.  Soldiers patrol the streets in numbers, police have added to their firepower, and the country has been under a state of emergency for more than a year.

But that didn't stop a fanatical jihadist from plowing into throngs of people at full speed in a truck and then exiting the vehicle only to open fire, killing dozens more. 

The war against Islamic terrorism is at a crossroads – tactically and politically.  The tactics employed to keep terrorism from happening have been marginally successful.  Cells have been broken up and networks disrupted, forcing the terrorists to improvise, as they did in the Nice attack.  But short of turning Europe into a police state, it appears that little can be done to stop them all.

Politically, the right-wing parties all across Europe grow stronger with every attack.  To a continent that fears the rise of nationalism and anti-immigration policies as harbingers of fascism, the increasing support for parties like the National Front in France has panicked the establishment, which may force them to adopt even more draconian security policies that limit freedom.

But what else can be done?

Reuters:

We don’t know for sure whether Thursday’s attack was directly related to Islamic State or even broader Islamist radicalism – although perhaps unsurprisingly, Islamic State and other jihadi-linked social media feeds were quick to rejoice in what had happened, implying that their supporters would at least like to believe there was a link.

Even if that proves not to be the case, that will not dramatically reduce the worry for European security chiefs. What the Bastille Day attacker successfully demonstrated was just how much could be achieved with a single determined driver and large motor vehicle.

Such tactics are hardly new. Israel has seen multiple attacks using vehicles and heavy building machinery conducted by Palestinian militants, in part seen ss a response to local security measures making it hard to transport bombs or firearms. The death tolls, however, have generally been much smaller: rarely more than a handful of civilian or security personnel.

This appears to have been at least the fourth politically or militant-inspired “vehicular assault” in France since 2014. Two attacks took place with motor vehicles in December 2014 in the towns of Nantes and Dijon, killing one person and injuring more than 20. In January this year, an attacker rammed four French soldiers who were guarding a mosque in Valence, although none were killed. The attacker was found to have jihadist propaganda on his computer, although it is not clear whether he was directly linked to any group.

[...]

Even some of the smaller attacks have had a truly brutal savagery. On June 13, a French police officer and his wife were stabbed to death in their own home in a town outside Paris by a single attacker in an attack claimed by Islamic State. The attacker live streamed the attack on Facebook. French officials said he appeared to be acting on a recent general order from the Islamic State leadership to attack its enemies during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Such “lone wolf” attacks are much, much harder to stop.

There may be a 9/11-style mass casualty event in the future, but most nations have done a good job of stopping such huge plots with many moving parts.  But as we survey the damage that can be done by individuals or small cells of terrorists, there is the realization that even intense vigilance by an increased military and police presence can't keep us completely safe.

More than any other European nation, France has militarized its response to terrorism.  Soldiers patrol the streets in numbers, police have added to their firepower, and the country has been under a state of emergency for more than a year.

But that didn't stop a fanatical jihadist from plowing into throngs of people at full speed in a truck and then exiting the vehicle only to open fire, killing dozens more. 

The war against Islamic terrorism is at a crossroads – tactically and politically.  The tactics employed to keep terrorism from happening have been marginally successful.  Cells have been broken up and networks disrupted, forcing the terrorists to improvise, as they did in the Nice attack.  But short of turning Europe into a police state, it appears that little can be done to stop them all.

Politically, the right-wing parties all across Europe grow stronger with every attack.  To a continent that fears the rise of nationalism and anti-immigration policies as harbingers of fascism, the increasing support for parties like the National Front in France has panicked the establishment, which may force them to adopt even more draconian security policies that limit freedom.

But what else can be done?

Reuters:

We don’t know for sure whether Thursday’s attack was directly related to Islamic State or even broader Islamist radicalism – although perhaps unsurprisingly, Islamic State and other jihadi-linked social media feeds were quick to rejoice in what had happened, implying that their supporters would at least like to believe there was a link.

Even if that proves not to be the case, that will not dramatically reduce the worry for European security chiefs. What the Bastille Day attacker successfully demonstrated was just how much could be achieved with a single determined driver and large motor vehicle.

Such tactics are hardly new. Israel has seen multiple attacks using vehicles and heavy building machinery conducted by Palestinian militants, in part seen ss a response to local security measures making it hard to transport bombs or firearms. The death tolls, however, have generally been much smaller: rarely more than a handful of civilian or security personnel.

This appears to have been at least the fourth politically or militant-inspired “vehicular assault” in France since 2014. Two attacks took place with motor vehicles in December 2014 in the towns of Nantes and Dijon, killing one person and injuring more than 20. In January this year, an attacker rammed four French soldiers who were guarding a mosque in Valence, although none were killed. The attacker was found to have jihadist propaganda on his computer, although it is not clear whether he was directly linked to any group.

[...]

Even some of the smaller attacks have had a truly brutal savagery. On June 13, a French police officer and his wife were stabbed to death in their own home in a town outside Paris by a single attacker in an attack claimed by Islamic State. The attacker live streamed the attack on Facebook. French officials said he appeared to be acting on a recent general order from the Islamic State leadership to attack its enemies during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan.

Such “lone wolf” attacks are much, much harder to stop.

There may be a 9/11-style mass casualty event in the future, but most nations have done a good job of stopping such huge plots with many moving parts.  But as we survey the damage that can be done by individuals or small cells of terrorists, there is the realization that even intense vigilance by an increased military and police presence can't keep us completely safe.