Terrorist attacks do not have to be spectacular: they can target everyday venues using everyday weapons.
You call know what the phrase ‘deja-vu’ means, right? It is the uncanny feeling that you have been somewhere before or seen something in the past and that sensation is triggered by something in the here and now. It is a weird thing to go through.
As I have now been working in counter terrorism for more than two decades I find myself thinking a lot about what I have witnessed and about how similar it can be. Sure, terrorists and terrorist attacks do differ but sometimes they look a lot alike. Into this mix we have to add the phenomenon known as ‘copycat crime.
For today’s featured incident I want to go back first to 2014. On October 20 of that year, Martin Couture-Rouleau ran over two members of the Canadian Armed Forces outside of Montreal, killing one: Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. He then drove away, rolled his car, got out brandishing a knife at a police officer and was shot dead.
2016 Machete attack in Ohio
Less than 16 months later, on this day in 2016 Mohamed Barry went into the Nazareth Restaurant & Deli in Columbus, Ohio, mistakenly believing it to be owned by a Jewish person. He proceeded to stab four people with a machete, thankfully killing no one, and fled in his car. He hit another vehicle a few minutes later and when police stopped his car he got out, still with the machete and another knife in his hands, lunged across the hood at the officers and yelled ‘Allahu Akbar’. After a taser did not neutralise him the police shot and killed him.
The subsequent investigation did not turn up any foreign terrorist organisation connection and was seen as a ‘lone actor’ attack. It was later learned that Mr. Barry had come up in an FBI investigation in 2012 over ‘radical comments’ but no further action was taken.
Later that year Islamic State (ISIS) put out propaganda urging jihadist sympathisers to stage knife attacks in public places. Who knows, maybe the Columbus incident ‘inspired’ them.
But getting back to the theme of ‘deja-vu’. I see definite parallels between the Couture-Rouleau and Barry cases. Both had been ‘on the radar’. Both used similar everyday motifs (car, knife). Both were killed when police approached their damaged vehicle. Was this possibly ‘suicide by cop’? I think not: rather it was a case of two men who sought and gained their goal to die, as they saw it, as martyrs for a cause.
I’d like to end on another old saying – there is nothing new under the sun. That goes for terrorism too.