From film and eye-witness footage, it’s quite clear that the perpetrators of the Woolwich attack were motivated for terrorist ends. The craze is now quite apparent, as is their intended objective of sowing societal discord.
Yesterday afternoon two individuals done a brutal attack on an off-duty British soldier. They then calmly announced what that they had done to the encompassing crowd. This has sparked a reaction with the English Defence League (EDL), while separately people are supposed to have attacked mosques. The assault looks just like the culmination of trends which have become increasingly visible in violent Islamist terrorism of late.
This isn’t the first time that such attacks or targeting has taken place. In May 2010, Roshonara Choudhry took a knife she had bought at Tesco and stabbed Stephen Timms MP. When asked about her motivation, she pointed to the truth that he had voted for the Iraq War. By her own admission, she had devised the punishment having watched videos by Anwar al Awlaki online. Targeting off-duty soldiers may be not new: within a British context there’s the case of Parviz Khan who was plotting to kidnap and behead a British soldier in Birmingham .He was disrupted before he could successfully perform his attack, but Mohammed Merah a 23-year-old French-Algerian was more successful. Having identified individuals through online activity at home in Toulouse and Montauban, he shot and killed three soldiers, before targeting a Jewish school and murdering three children and a teacher.
The key elements in all of those incidents is that subsequently little or no evidence emerged that these individuals have been tasked to hold out their incidents. There has been verification that Merah and Khan had made connections to extremist groups abroad, but none were tasked to do what they did. Choudhry nevertheless has up to now had no links identified and no apparent direction beyond her own. It sort of feels possible that the individuals in Woolwich may fall somewhere within this spectrum – possibly connected to radical groups either within the UK or abroad, but unlikely to have received much direction or tasking. When taking a look at orchestrated plots from abroad, the tendency have been for larger scale operations targeting higher profile institutions, individuals and frequently deploying bombs.
In parallel to this trend of lone actor (or small cell) terrorism and not using a clear command and control, there was a growing tendency towards the targeting of more local targets and domestic military sites. In a up to date case in Luton, a bunch of guys mentioned driving a handheld remote control car laden with explosives right into a local Territorial Army barracks. A separate group in Birmingham drove to Dewsbury planning on targeting an English Defence League (EDL) march at which they hoped find the organisations leader. Or even Roshonara Choudhry’s selection of a random MP (amongst many) to punish for Iraq, all appear to suggest a targeting that’s maybe seen as being a part of a grander picture to the person, but in expression seems random and really local.
A consequence of the attack is that it can incite hatred and anger between and among communities. The EDL have reacted to this recent incident vociferously and individuals have sought to attack mosques.
These trends was increasingly visible before few years. From a safety perspective, the dilemma is 2-fold. At the one hand, tips on how to identify lone actor terrorists who may feature in a bigger intelligence picture, but do little to differentiate themselves from the gang. And at the other, the best way to manage societal tensions when extremists on each side prove desirous to incite violent reactions in others.
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