National Security & Defense

Terror in London . . . Again

Police, fire and ambulance crew attend to an incident at Parsons Green underground station in London. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)
Jihad in the West has reached a new stage.

The latest reporting indicates that 22 people were injured, but fortunately none killed, in this morning’s terrorist bombing in the London subway transit system.

An improvised explosive device detonated at the Parsons Green Tube station in West London shortly after 8 a.m. British time. According to Sky News, at least one witness reports seeing “a white builder’s bucket” and a “foiled carrier bag.” The bucket is said to have had “wires hanging from it and a strong smell of chemicals . . . a chemical smell more than a burning smell.”

It is the fifth terrorist attack this year in the United Kingdom.

Police are hunting for at least one suspect, who has not been identified. President Trump, who has been briefed, took to Twitter to rail about another attack “by a loser terrorist.” He added a comment that suggests British authorities were aware of the suspect(s) before the strike: “These are sick and demented people who were in the sights of Scotland Yard. Must be proactive!” It would be a mistake to read too much into that, though, at this premature stage. At the moment, we don’t know who did this, although strong suspicions of jihadism are certainly justified.

On that score, there are two points to consider.

First, it has been the fear of American and European counterterrorism officials that the routing of ISIS in Syria and Iraq would heighten the terrorist threat in Europe. Jihadists fleeing from their “caliphate” have been dispersing, and many are making their way back to the Western countries from whence they came. The problem, of course, is that these are quite motivated fighters who have received military training. Our own experience in the U.S. — much of it featured in evidence we presented in the terror trials of the Nineties — shows there is a great deal of prestige, in fundamentalist Islamic circles, attached to any Muslim who has fought in what the Blind Sheikh used to call “the fields of jihad”: Afghanistan, Bosnia, Syria, Iraq, and so on. So, these jihadists are not just competent when it comes to conducting attacks; they are also very effective inciters, recruiters, and fundraisers.

The second point combines frighteningly with the first. Jihad in the West has reached a new stage. For many years, terrorists aspired to major operations — spectacular strikes that required know-how, discipline, and coordination. We were able to say with confidence that if we focused on training — not just ideological fervor but whether the would-be militant had been to a jihadist camp — we would have a reasonably good handle on who posed a threat. This is why, for example, we amended immigration law after the 9/11 attacks to preclude from entry into the U.S. any alien suspected of receiving jihadist training.

Again, it’s too early to draw conclusions about today’s attack. But based on other recent attacks, we can say that it doesn’t require any training to, say, plow a car into a crowd of people.

Terrorist organizations like ISIS have encouraged sharia-supremacist Muslims to attack in place — i.e., where they live in the West — rather than come to Syria. We are thus seeing more of these ad hoc strikes that require little or no expertise to pull off. In the Nineties, we used to be ironically relieved that the jihadists always wanted to go for the big bang; 9/11-type attacks are horrific, but they are extremely tough to pull off, and there are usually opportunities (as there were with 9/11) to disrupt them. That’s why they so rarely succeed. We worried that someday it would dawn on these monsters that there is a great deal of low-hanging fruit out there (virtually indefensible targets, like subways and crowded streets) that would be easy to attack, almost no preparation or coordination required.

Terrorist organizations like ISIS have encouraged sharia-supremacist Muslims to attack in place — i.e., where they live in the West.

Now, they’re going for the low-hanging fruit.

In terms of what the wonks like to call the “threat mosaic,” we are now in straits more dangerous than ever. We have highly trained, competent jihadists who are capable of pulling off sophisticated strikes that could kill hundreds or thousands at once; and we have motivated would-be jihadists who have been encouraged to do the kind of crude attacks that are within their limited capabilities. The crude attacks, we are learning, are just as effective at stoking an atmosphere of intimidation as long as they happen with some regularity.

President Trump also tweeted, “The internet is [the ‘loser terrorists’] main recruitment tool.” Fair enough, but I would caution that we not underestimate the powerful influence of jihadists returning from Syria and Iraq. To my mind, moreover, the biggest challenge is the Islamist enclaves that have sprung up throughout the West (particularly in Europe), which are safe havens for jihadist incitement, recruitment, fundraising, and moral support. Coupled with the continuing stubborn determination of Western progressives (and the governments and institutions of opinion they dominate) to deny the fundamentalist-Islamic roots of terrorism, it has become increasingly difficult to, as the president says, “be proactive!”

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