Friday,24 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)
Friday,24 May, 2019
Issue 1358, (24 August - 6 September 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Violent convulsions

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The horrific attacks in Barcelona hide three even more catastrophic events, which had they happened they would be more evidence of the transformation and brutality of terrorism in Europe. According to ongoing investigations, there was a plot to bomb the Church Sagrada Familia, one of the top 12 historic and heritage sites in Spain. Also on the target list was a seaport and a car bomb on the famous tourist and commercial Las Ramblas Avenue in Barcelona. The plan was for Spain to become the scene of unprecedented destruction in Europe, if it wasn’t for a mistake by terrorists that was discovered later after an explosion at a building they were renting in the Catalan town of Alcanar. The explosives were stored incorrectly alongside a large number of gas cylinders being prepared for the three attacks. Thus, the terrorists decided to change their plan and instead used a van to plow through pedestrians.

The attack indicates several facts, including that the plot to bomb these key sites aimed to put Spain under the siege of terrorism, similar to the 9/11 attacks targeting symbols of US might, and thus send a message that the group is not dead yet despite seeming to be stamped out in Iraq and Syria. This is evident in Islamic State (IS) claiming responsibility for the attack, and its “preachers” in Huwaiji, Iraq, distributing flyers threatening Europe, the US and Britain with more attacks.

Second, the explosives stockpile at Alcanar was stored for one year, which means the group was preparing for this new phase for some time. IS spokesman Abu Mohamed Al-Adnani said as much in his last message before he was killed, noting that IS will not die in Raqqa and Mosul, and this is not the end of the road.

Third, at the structural level, the group is unlike others, especially Al-Qaeda that splintered, dispersed and weakened. Instead, it will evolve into branches that are organised and capable of fresh attacks.

The Spain attack also seems synchronised with stabbing attacks in Finland and Russia, which could mean one of two things for the new structure of IS. First, there is a “network” of IS cells, either those returning from combat or distant affiliates who form separate networks at various locations. As soon as one strikes the next is ready for an attack somewhere else, to show that Europe is under terrorist siege. Second, the possibility of “networking” common ideas, interests and denominators among these branches that are not organisationally linked.

Third, the tools used in the attacks are simple and accessible, whether vans or sharp objects, but this does not mean attacks will be limited to these weapons. Terrorists will also use other types, such as explosives, whenever possible; both were used in attacks in Paris, including firearms at the Bataclan Theatre and ramming pedestrians in Nice.

Another factor is sharing intelligence on terrorism. Tense political relations between Spain and Morocco are evident in the lack of intelligence cooperation between the two, even though the Moroccan factor is common in both the Spain and Finland attacks. Meanwhile, intelligence sharing between Morocco and France resulted in the exchange of key information on the Molenbeek terrorist cell behind the Paris attacks.

Finally, while IS already demonstrated its brutality, now branches are evolving the group’s barbaric doctrine, which will worsen in the future. The mastermind of the Barcelona attack was 22 years old and the one in Finland was 18 years old.

Europe will likely become one of the main stages of terrorist activities, which means European countries will face unprecedented challenges and security burdens due to the evolution of terrorism. To address this, Europe must overhaul its security policies on both the domestic and continental levels.

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