Terrorists seem to target nearly every Western democracy in random waves. The United States has long been a target, even before the world-changing attacks on September 11, 2001. France lost 86 people in Nice last year when a truck rammed through a crowd and 130 the previous fall in attacks in Paris. The most consequential attack on Britain was the July 7, 2005, bombing of the London Underground which killed 52 people and injured about 700 more. Yet, the bombing of a Manchester concert, which was quickly followed by the recent London attacks has once again caught a nation off-guard. Is there a pattern developing or just more senseless, and random, attacks?
In answering this question it might be helpful to start at the endgame for groups like ISIS. What are they hoping to accomplish? In a world where religion is used as a tool to manipulate so many, all too often we are caught unawares by the fact that many within radical and terrorist communities are sincere in their beliefs. Osama bin Laden’s goal in creating al-Qaeda was a renaissance of Islamic piety that would result in a caliphate – an empire to rule faithful Muslims in the Middle East. To accomplish that, the United States and other European powers first had to be ejected from Muslim countries. Creating an environment in which U.S. troops left Saudi Arabia, his home country and the peninsula where Islam was born, was his most immediate objective. In order to accomplish is near and long term goals, bin Laden had no need to create a formal state. The well educated Saudi instead created a corporation that franchised out terror around the world, in turn, al-Qaeda supported these franchises, or “cells” with money and training. It was not all that different from McDonald’s relationship to its franchised restaurants.
ISIS also hopes to bring about a caliphate in the Middle East and it adds to that desire an eschatology that is rooted in medieval times and sprung from Wahhabism, a severe form of Isalm originating in 19th century Arabia.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi established a terrorist organization in Iraq after the U.S. invasion as an arm of al-Qaeda. He waged war on Shia Muslims in the hopes retaliation would occur and the country was thrown into chaos. For a time, he succeeded but was killed by American forces in 2006. The organization he left behind in Iraq formed the core of ISIS under Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The group saw itself as a successor to Muhammad’s original fighters from the sixth century. Through its submission to Muhammad’s legacy and restoration of a caliphate, it is hoped that end of the world can be provoked. Prophecy calls for a final battle with the West in the city of Dabiq. Once that happens, the end can come. In other words, one of the main aims of ISIS is to draw Western fighters to the Middle East in order to set the stage for the end of the world.
But, also playing into the hands of extremist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS is a belief that America and its allies are hollow at their core and unwilling to tolerate large losses of life. They also attempt to wedge the whole of the Muslim world away from the West. By attacking Western nations they hope to initiate a crackdown on minority Muslim populations, radicalizing them in the process.
Terrorism acts as both direct and psychological warfare – direct by killing large numbers of people and psychological by instilling fear and panic such that nations will behave irrationally and recklessly, eroding their economic power and inciting them to unwise adventures.
Since the beginning of 2015 there have been 22 terrorist attacks inflicted on Western Europe and the United States by individuals claiming allegience to ISIS, killing a total of 409 people and injuring 1.486 more. France has been the hardest hit country.
What has been witnessed in England is not a newfound hatred of the country, but just part of ongoing strategize to terrorize the West and lead it where ISIS wants it to go.
The sad reality is that when we see terrorist attacks succeed, it’s simply a matter of the many that are planned that make it through to completion undetected by authorities. No matter how good we get at gathering intelligence, the sheer volume of plots suggest we’ll be vulnerable to the random for some time.