The New Year begins in the same manner that the last ended, an unpredictable attack in one of the world’s major cities, without planes crashing into building, trains or underground bombs causing mayhem. The attack on the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo that left 12 dead was not just an attack on freedom of speech but also a game changer and the nightmare security agencies across the western world fear most. The attack, seemingly meticulously planned and executed with devastating precision remains in reality, a simplistic attack: a target, weapons and a get-away car. Leading terrorist analysts have warned of a potential surge in lone wolf attacks and it appears they have very much arrived on the streets of Europe.
Sydney and Paris prove a clear indication of the very real increase of the threat that extremist ideology poses throughout the world, whilst highlighting the significant frailty and vulnerabilities we now face. The Coffee house gunman, Man Haron Monis, may well have been an opportunist – on bail pending numerous violent charges. However, under surveillance, known by the security services, he casually walked into a coffee shop one morning, pinned his colours to the window and made the World watch.
Europe has not been on a higher state of alert and fear of an ‘imminent’ attack for some time, yet danger from the threat of terrorism is exceptionally real. However, the podium on which ISIS and other terrorist organisations sits no longer needs the sensationalism of 9/11, the London underground bombings, Bali or Madrid. What fundamentalist extremists need now for motivation is as little as a man with a gun and a flag in one of the world’s major cities. It is clear that we are arriving at a period of less complex terrorist operations with no need for cross border planning, high level training and financing; instead we are seeing the use of a much more simplistic, opportunistic and dramatic form of attacks against the west and its allies.
Sydney and Paris exhibited how the capacity of violence from just one or two was enough for the world to pay attention and the media machine to grind into gear. Sky News, The BBC, Channel 9 and countless TV networks across the globe were infatuated with the story in Sydney, filling hours with repetitive imagery, subject matter experts, interviewing SAS veterans from the Iranian Embassy siege for their views, whilst all the while waiting for moments of sensationalist TV to occur. There is no doubt that the end game in Sydney, played out live on television was dramatic, frightening and ultimately sensational. Extremists are still receiving champagne coverage but now for the cost of beer.
The UK has already been subject to lone wolf attacks, the off-the-cuff seemingly sporadic decision to drive a car into Fusilier Lee Rigby, drag his unconscious body into the road and all but sever his head in broad daylight was unprecedented and shocking in its severity. Michael Adebolajo, the mastermind behind the attack, had spent most of his 20’s on the radar of the police and reportedly had even been the subject of employment approaches by MI5. Converted to Islam by 18, he was a pupil under the extreme cleric Omar Bakri Mohammad, head of the infamous, banned, Al-Muhajiroun and later the outspoken radical Anjum Choudary. Here is a man that had grown up watching and listening to extremism, the disillusioned loner who felt there was no place in society for him; in the end, all he required, for the world to learn his name and hear his voice was a knife set bought from Argos and a soldier crossing the street.
Numerous claims have been made about the number of young Muslims that have made the pilgrimage to Syria or Iraq to help establish an Islamic Caliphate. 300 to 500 is the approximate scope of estimates according to, amongst others, the former Foreign Secretary William Hague. Richard Barrett, the former MI6 head of counter-terrorism, estimated that possibly up to 300 people have returned to the UK already, and warned that intelligence services faced an “impossible” task in trying to locate and track these potential extremists.
The potential for young Muslims to make their pilgrimage East and join ISIS has provoked new rhetoric from the home secretary and new policy. Theresa May has announced a potential ban on universities to host extremist speakers, to be included in the counter-terrorism bill. This bill will also place a statutory duty on schools, colleges, prisons and local councils to help prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. She went on to announce universities would have to show that they have put in place policies to deal with extremist speakers. What makes a terrorist dissimilar from other belligerent, warlike, young men and women is that he or she has seemingly found a cause that validates their anti-social inclinations – a doctrine that teaches them that they are angry, not because there’s something necessarily wrong with them, but because there’s something wrong with those who don’t agree with their views. There is a growing pool of such young men and women across the western world and a growing culture of Muslims and the rest.
However military and police will amend tactics or deploy new policy over the coming months to deal with this threat, the fact remains that all three of the cases highlighted in this article were very much on the radar of security personnel and further all three of the attacks cited have one alarming collective feature; the perpetrators were all citizens of the countries they attacked. It is impossible to monitor everyone – and potential ‘wolves’ are acutely aware of this. It may be prudent to envisage more attacks of a comparable vein across the west, and the UK, whether we like to think it or not, is a primary target. Whether influenced by the ISIS cause at home or abroad it is clear the significant difficulties security services face.
If it is impossible to stop such sporadic, moderately unsophisticated attacks, there must be more emphasis on the cause of radicalisation; as yet we have not significantly tackled this in the UK. It may now be time for the Muslim community and its leaders to take a stronger stance against these fundamentalist extremist elements of the faith. The disassociation between Islam and extremists can’t continue in its current state; it is young Muslim men and women, in the mainstream society, becoming radicalised. The time has come in Europe for the Muslim faith to stand up, educate and make a stance against the preposterous, absurd doctrine extremists implement, not simply distance themselves from extremists. Tensions are rising in some of the most democratic and liberal democracies on Earth: marches in Germany, the far right gaining significant ground in France and the UK, whilst the European Parliament now has a much greater flavour of the far right.
2015 will prove to be one of the most unpredictable years in the history of counter terrorism, and if we already struggle to cope with the execution of individual attacks, we must now push for a substantial and significant programme to deal with the route of fundamentalism. The home secretary is right to address route cause but must push the Muslim community to now stand front and centre; if not, the wolves could be here to stay!
By Ed Marsh, Junior Writer at Daily Political View.