Well, you have to give terrorists some credit. They certainly have settled on a winning approach to carrying out acts of violence and causing mayhem. And that approach is remarkably simple and easily accessed. I am talking of course of vehicle attacks. We have seen a lot of these lately, in Barcelona, in Stockholm, in Edmonton, in London – and just yesterday in London again. A man drove a car into pedestrians and cyclists outside Parliament at 7:40 in the morning before he crashed into a security barrier. Thankfully those injured were not seriously so and the man was arrested immediately and has been charged, although he is not cooperating with police.
We are learning more about the suspect and on the surface he does not fit the ‘profile’ everyone thinks he exists. He is 29, of Sudanese background, came to the UK as a refugee, asked for asylum, received it and became a UK citizen in 2010. He was ‘normal, hardworking, honest and polite’ according to those who knew him, studied electrical engineering, science and accounting and worked as a farm labourer (in Libya) and security guard in the UK. There were no reported signs of radicalisation and he was not known to Britain’s security service MI5. In other words, it is possible if not probable that this attack was not preventable (assuming there were no signs given off that he was adopting a terrorist mindset) although authorities are seeing it as a terrorist incident.
Why were the UK’s spies not aware of him? Simple: they have identified 23,000 people who are somewhere along the radicalisation to violence spectrum and cannot investigate them all (MI5 is already engaged in more than 670 terrorist files and has prevented more than a dozen attacks since last year). The Brits are working flat out to locate and neutralise as many violent extremists as they can and it is unlikely that they can do any more unless the get a massive infusion of more resources.
I do hope we find out more about this suspect in the following days. Was he working alone? Did he have help planning this? Was he inspired by anyone? Will Islamic State claim the suspect as one of their ‘soldiers’? Was his time in Libya important? All good questions.
Back here in Canada we had an incident last Saturday that bore some similarity to the one in London. A man driving a truck jumped the curb just west of Parliament Hill, slightly injuring two people. The RCMP arrested the driver after he allegedly tried to flee. According to initial assessments, this event is not being considered terrorist in nature. This of course could change as more facts come in.
Whatever this latest ‘accident’ in Ottawa turns out to be it is vitally important that we do not jump to conclusions when things of this nature occur. We tend to label these things right away even if the information is partial and incomplete. That is just bad analysis.
I understand the desire for certainty. Not knowing or not being sure rankles us as humans. But establishing a hard position can lead to other actions that are unhelpful at a minimum and could lead to more violence at the worst: on occasion innocent people have been attacked by ‘concerned citizens’ who are convinced they are achieving ‘justice’ to punish those who are responsible for given attack (or those who look like those believed responsible for an attack). The old ‘eye for an eye’ method of judgment.
The bottom line is that we will see more of these events in the weeks, months and years to come. Some will be the handiwork of terrorists, some will not. Let’s have the patience to wait for good data before we decide which is which shall we?