Arlington, VA July 15, 2016
July 14th, Bastille Day, is the National Independence Day celebration in France. It is the one day that all parts of France join together to celebrate "Liberte, Fraternite, Equalite" with massive events and fireworks, not unlike its adopted son, the United States.
This year, however, everything was different. Thousands descended on Nice, along the southern coast, near Monaco, to enjoy the parades, fireworks, and they were treated instead to the spectacle of a truck barrelling through crowds, killing at last count nearly 85 people, and injuring a similar number, some of who are in near-to-death circumstances. Bodies were strewn along the street, men, women, and even small children, run over until the truck eventually stopped, and the driver started shooting in all directions to kill even more. It was a truly horrific scene.
As horrible as the physical circumstances were, the implications of this latest attack are even more concerning when you look at some of the circumstances that seem to surround it as an act of terror. Several things come quickly to mind.
First, terrorism, by its nature, whether Radical Islamic Terrorism, as this seems to be, or other forms of similar activity, instills fear in people, communities and even entire nations by their actions. I have said many times in my articles that the methods terrorists use are 'asynchronous', that is they seldom do the same things in the same way every time. Rather, these terrorists choose different methods (i.e. trucks, bombs, guns, etc.) to prevent effective advanced planning, which might otherwise be possible. While they plan their activities in advance, the execution of those plans usually adds to the collective sense of fear in a community.
Take a look at France. First, the Charlie Hebdo attack in response to a cover showing Muhammad (Something considered sacrilegious by some in Islam) was an assault on a specific place for an announced purpose. That attack was followed by two in Belgium which concentrated on first a shopping mall and restaurant, and then an attempt to attack police, all by local terrorists. The situation then returned to France for the restaurant shootings, but this time it was different; they not only attacked one restaurant, but three places apart from each other, and the killings were not concentrated on one specific place, but the shooters this time simply went down the street killing and injuring indiscriminately.
The current attack was completely different, and in a city far from Paris where the other attacks took place, and by a completely different medium--a large truck with a driver bent on killing as many as possible, and then being killed himself. Again, a local person, although originally from Tunisia, according to the police.
The second aspect is the ability of the terrorists to blend into the community both before, and often after the crimes they commit. This is made easier when, as in France, there are enclaves which provide cover for the terrorists; this was the case in both Paris and Nice, both of which have large areas where French police and French Law give way to Shariah Law and rule. Here in the US, while these self-ruled areas are less common, the larger incidents have also occurred in areas with significant populations of immigrants from which the newly radicalized terrorists come, and receive support. These enclaves and protected areas make it difficult to either find the terrorists, if they escape, or identify them before they commit crimes. As in the latest case in Nice, while the person had committed relatively minor prior offenses, that did not place him on a high priority police watch list for any future actions.
Combining the availability of cover for the terrorists planning events, and the inability to plan effectively for actions in every possible scenario, it is clear that law enforcement is on the defensive--another facet of fear that works to the advantage of the terrorist who commits a crime and is perfectly willing to die for it. There is no simple answer or solution to this evolving phenomenon.