Manchester Arena Bombing (May 22, 2017)

An ISIS suicide bomber killed himself outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester in 2017, killing 22 people, many of them children.

Terrorists seem to have all kinds of ‘reasons’ why they do what they do. But hitting a concert popular with young girls?

Put yourself in the shoes (and the brain) of a terrorist for a moment. You were not born that way as terrorists do not exit their mothers’ wombs intent on killing. No, you got where you are because of what we call, not that well IMHO, a process of radicalisation. Someone – or more likely several someones – helped you see the world in a certain way and convinced you that we are all heading to hell in the proverbial handbasket and that something has to be done.

You are told that all our evils are at the hands of someone or something (the US, Israel, the ‘West’, secularism, women’s rights…) and that violence is the only way to remedy the situation. The justification for the use of force can be religious, political or ideological: in the end it does not really matter since you think it is ok to kill in order to get your way.

Next, you have to choose whom to target. Most terrorists I would imagine are not suicidal (some clearly are) and thus going up against a heavily armed opponent makes little sense. I recall a case I worked on years ago where an Islamist extremist thought about hitting a naval base. That person, perhaps wisely, reconsidered what would surely have been a disaster (for him!).

On this day in 2017, an ISIS suicide bomber killed himself outside an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, killing 22 people, many of them children.

This is why we see so many attacks against what are known as ‘soft targets’, i.e. little to no security, lots of civilians who are not on the lookout for terrorists, easy access, easy escape, etc. The actions that fit this bill are impossible to count.

Still, there are some plots that seem to be below even the low standards of terrorists. An attack last week by Afghan terrorists – probably Islamic State (ISIS) in Khorasan – in the maternity wing of a Kabul hospital where the victims were newborns and mothers – was particularly evil (and I refrain from using that term too much).

Today’s featured assault is not far from what just transpired in Kabul. On this day in 2017 an ISIS suicide bomber struck moments after the singer Ariana Grande finished her concert at Manchester Arena, killing 22 concertgoers and injuring 116 more.

A scene of youthful fun turned to panic and violence as shrapnel and fire tore through the crowd pouring out of the Arena’s busiest exit. Witnesses said they heard an explosion and saw a flash of light. Some were knocked down by the blast, while others scrambled for safety in the chaos.

ISIS indeed claimed the heinous act. The attacker was later revealed to be 22-year-old Salman Abedi, a Manchester native of Libyan descent whom investigators believe was radicalised after spending time in Libya in 2011 He received help from his brother, who was found guilty of murder almost three years later. As the Crown prosecutor put it: “He has blood on his hands even if he didn’t detonate the bomb.”

Of the 22 dead half were under the age of 20 and the youngest was eight. Of the wounded half were children. Children attending a concert. I know that jihadis have a particular hatred for music, especially pop music, despite their obsession with nasheeds (voice only praise of violence), but killing children going to see their favourite artist? Seriously?

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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