UK Parliament terror: Weak ISIS means more such attacks

In Europe, terrorism is probably evolving into 2.1 version.

 |  4-minute read |   23-03-2017
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Five persons including the perpetrator - described as an Asian male - were killed and 40 others injured in a terrorist attack barely 40 yards from the UK Parliament on Wednesday afternoon.

The attack has been attributed to a lone terrorist who was shot dead by a policeman after he stabbed and killed another officer on duty. Before that, the attacker drove a sports utility car into pedestrians on the London Bridge injuring many, and crashed on the railings of the parliament.

So far, the police have not revealed either the identity of the dead terrorist or whether any terrorist organisation was involved in the attack. As of now, the police believe only one person was involved.

It was on March 22 last year that the Islamic State (IS) terrorists carried out three coordinated terrorist bombings (two at Brussels airport and another at a metro station) in Brussels, killing 32 people.

The coincidence of the date is uncanny to dismiss its significance. It is probably a strong reminder that the IS, fighting for survival in the last of its bastions in Raqqa in Syria and Mosul in Iraq, is very much alive and kicking in Europe.

Another significant aspect is the selection of Westminster area as the scene for the attack. While it was not as spectacular as the Pakistani terrorist attack on Indian Parliament on December 13, 2001, its importance lies in the shock effect created by the London attack across Europe and the world.

The method used in the London attack – the use of an automobile to kill innocent civilians – is similar to two attacks in Europe carried out by IS terrorists last year.

A jihadi terrorist driving a heavy cargo truck plowed into the holiday crowd at Nice, France, killing 86 people and injuring 434 others on Bastille Day on July 14, 2016.

In the other gruesome attack in Berlin on December 19, 2016, a jihadi terrorist drove a truck into a Christmas market killing 12 people and fled the scene. Later, the police shot him dead when they found him holed up in Italy.

So in all likelihood, the London attack was an IS attack. Actually, 2016 was one of the most “productive” years for jihadi terrorism with 24 incidents to their credit in Europe.

In 2017, we can expect more such attacks as foreign terrorists, numbering around 1,500 or so, return home to Europe when the Islamic State is weakened and pushed out of the Levant.  

In Europe, jihadi terrorism, spearheaded by the IS, is probably evolving into 2.1 version (al-Qaeda terrorism being version 1 and the IS terrorism in Levant version 2) with its decentralised style of operation.

A study of methods used in the 24 jihadi terrorist actions in Europe during 2016 indicates preference for using "lone wolves" – individuals brainwashed mostly through the social media – to carry out the attacks.

This is cost-effective and a socially infective method of spreading the terrorist ideology, particularly as the IS capabilities are rapidly declining. We can expect more such attacks in 2017.

Similarly, use of knives and heavy automobiles would probably be preferred for lone wolf attacks. It is probably more reliable than the use of improvised bombs of doubtful quality, made of commonly available chemical fertilisers like urea and nitrates.  

Nearer home in South Asia, the 2.1 version transformation of jihadi terrorism may not take place as the Af-Pak territory has sufficient assets - manpower, ideology and probably patronage - for jihadi terrorism to flourish.

Of course, the Pakistan army has launched nationwide counter-terror operations from mid-February 2017 onwards. As many as 17 incidents involving terrorists have been reported in Pakistan in the first three months of this year.

However, though a holistic national action plan to eradicate terrorism in Pakistan has been launched, its progress has been lethargic, probably due to strong political, ideological and misguided strategic pressures.

Though India has managed to successfully handle the jihadi terrorist threat so far, two jihadi terrorism issues have the potential to dislocate the situation.

The first problematic issue could be the return of 150-200 IS cadres of Indian origin from Syria and Iraq. The security agencies seem to be on the ball in keeping a close watch of the situation.

The second issue is the reported infiltration of Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (JMB) extremists from Bangladesh into West Bengal, Assam and Tripura.

The Bangladesh government is reported to have warned India about the infiltration of JMB extremists after it cracked down on them in the wake of the daring attack they carried out at a Dhaka restaurant in July 2016.  

So India simply cannot afford to let go of its nailed fist against jihadi terrorism for some time to come; it does not matter whether it is home-grown or Pakistan-sponsored because the pestilence is the same.

Also read: UK Parliament attack: Post-Brexit Britain’s brush with terrorism is ominous

Writer

Colonel R Hariharan Colonel R Hariharan @colhari2

The writer is a retired Military Intelligence specialist on South Asia with rich experience in terrorism and insurgency operations.

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