Jason Burke writes: The precise motivation and the identity of the Barcelona attackers will become clear in the next few hours. Islamic State has claimed responsibility on its Amaq news agency, though in recent months such claims have become highly unreliable.
Individuals close to Isis and active on social media have been celebrating the attack, but this does not necessarily indicate a direct connection between the attacker or attackers and the group.
Tactics spread among militants when they are seen to work. There is no skill needed to drive a vehicle into a crowd, nor any difficulty involved in obtaining one. This makes a car, van or lorry an ideal weapon for today’s terrorists, who are often inspired by a group but are not actually part of it, and for the most part, lack the training and means necessary for more complex attacks.
The second lesson is that there is now little discrimination in targeting. This means tourists are very much in the line of fire. A decade or so ago, Islamic militant groups sought to send specific messages through their violence. Random attacks against unarmed civilians were seen as ineffective, and even counter-productive in terms of garnering public support in the Muslim world. The 9/11 attack was launched against targets seen by al-Qaida as symbols of US economic, political and military power.
In 2004, Spain was the target of the bloodiest jihadi attack on European soil when commuter trains were bombed by al-Qaida sympathisers in Madrid. One aim was to undermine Spanish support for military intervention in Iraq, and influence an election. Spain was also a particular target because of the historic resonance for militants of the Islamic kingdom of Andalusia, lost to Christendom 900 years ago.
This has changed. Isis has led a broader shift towards attacking anyone, anywhere, anyhow. Public spaces, always inherently vulnerable, are now more at risk than ever. Music fans in Manchester, summer revellers in Nice, pub-goers in London, and of course tourists, whether taking pictures on Westminster Bridge, on a beach in Tunisia, or on an airplane returning to Russia from Egypt. [Continue reading…]