Special to WorldTribune.com
PARIS — The hateful hand of terrorism struck in Barcelona, as a van driven by a Jihadi militant plowed into scores of strollers on the city’s celebrated Ramblas promenade, killing 14 and injuring 130. The starkly simple but devastating attack method was used in Nice, France a year earlier at a Bastille Day celebration killing 86 people, and a Christmas Market in Berlin, Germany killing 12.
The Grim Reaper has returned to Spain. In 2004 Al Qaida terrorists killed over 100 in gruesome train bombings. Now, it’s the remorseless killers of Islamic State who have, without complicated bombs, brought their evil calling card to Barcelona. In this case, a van was used as a medieval battering ram. Bigger more lethal attacks were planned.
Until now, the past few months in Europe have been largely quiet thanks to better security and focused police penetration of terror cells in France. Then there was a car ramming by an Islamic militant into a group of soldiers in Paris, wounding five.
For the most part, the risk from terrorism in Western Europe is still minimal although each new incident tends to hit multinational targets. The Barcelona attack saw innocent citizens from over thirty countries killed or wounded. This was totally intentional and morbidly deliberate.
And again, we see the heartfelt sympathy for a stricken city; Pray for Barcelona, Love for Barcelona, Tears for Barcelona, flowers, stuffed animals and candles all commemorating lost and shattered lives of people mostly in their prime and doing nothing more than having fun in a lovely city.
Spanish police later killed five Islamic radicals with both local and North African roots. Catalonia, a prosperous region of Spain, remains a hotbed of fundamentalist Salafi Islam.
Now the political classes offer their judgment: Spain’s tough Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy describing the act as “Jihadist terrorism.” He warned, “Today the fight against terrorism is the principal priority for free and open societies like ours. It is a global threat and the response has to be global.”
France’s Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Donald Trump are all saying the right things and all quietly knowing they will have to say it again before too long albeit with the name of a new victim city. Such is this war.
On Aug. 15, two days before the Barcelona attack, I noticed a slight but clear sea change in security in Paris; soldiers were outside churches celebrating the Feast of the Assumption, more camouflage clad troops were again on the streets of Paris, not just in train stations but noticeably patrolling the grand boulevards and even my local bus near Montparnasse. There was “something” in the air but when and where?
Perhaps intelligence picked up a signal for an attack somewhere in Europe, but Europe is a big and crowded place, especially in the Summer.
French political philosopher Pascal Bruckner warns “Islam is on a suicidal slope.” He told the daily Le Figaro that, “The multiplication of attacks throughout Europe shows that it is vain to want to attribute radicalization to economic or social causes.” Bruckner warns, the long term counter strategy must be “cultural and theological.”
Significantly, as this column has often stressed, the “cause” in Syria remains a global rallying point for Islamic radicals, many of whom have gone to the Middle East joining the ranks foreign fighters. Much like the Spanish Civil war in the 1930’s, Syria has become both an internationalist rallying point and a proving ground for both the great powers as well as the foreign fighters cannon fodder.
As the U.S. and its allies are successfully defeating Islamic State, many of the foreign fighters are drifting home to Europe with white heat radicalization and lethal military skills. Intelligence reports that between 1,300 and 3,000 Europeans from Da’esh or ISIS are poised to return. Among these militants are 700 French.
Open borders throughout much of the European Union, but wisely not the United Kingdom, have facilitated movement of terror cells and supplies. “Europe without borders is wagering against human bombs,” cites a front page Le Figaro editorial.
Rationalization over the enduring threat of Jihadi Islam often remains the most complicated hurdle for policymakers in Europe’s profoundly democratic societies. “It can’t happen here” somehow is part of a polite mentality which while conceding the present danger then wishes to brush away future challenges.
As Le Monde editorialized, “It is a long drawn out war. It must be borne, no matter what it costs.”
Spain’s Prime Minister Rajoy proudly stated, “They will not terrorize us.”
Solidarity with Spain.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism the Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014). [See pre-2011 Archives]