War against Europe would not end with “Man & Van” tactics
If a terror tactic works effectively either alone or in combination with other complementary tactics, terrorist groups and lone wolfs will use it, copy it and stick to it. This is how ISIL and other violent extremist’s entities like AL- Qaeda and Boko Haram make use of any available automobile (motorbikes, cars, vans, trucks) they can lay their hands on and ram it against an unsuspecting crowd of people usually in an area or time of national or international significance.
This recurrent tactic has resulted in high number of casualties, but the most lasting effect is the psychological trauma and terror it leaves behind on families who lost loved ones, the wounded, those who got away by a whisker, and the immediate population that witnessed the atrocity first hand.
How to stop “Man & Van” Terror Tactics:
Understanding how Daesh or other violent extremists plan and prepare to obtain cars or vans as their weapon of choice is significant to the desired effect of a counter measure.
Renting has been the preferred option because it is relatively cheap (As cheap as £10 per hour excluding a deposit) and easy to rent a car/ van/truck if you can provide the necessary ‘documentations’. A rented van/truck raises no obvious suspicion to rental company or security services because it is normal to rent a van without the need to show evidence of what the van will be used for.
Where renting has posed a problem, individuals or groups will resort to a “Grab and Smash” tactics. This involves stealing or hijacking and using the car or van as a weapon to smash into people. The problem with stealing or hijacking a car/van/truck is that it may raise a security alert and hinder the mission for assailants. This method has been rarely used in Europe. Where it has been used like the case of the December 2016 Berlin Christmas Day attack, the timing between stealing or hijacking a car or van is planned to coincide with the distance of the intended target.
The use of terrorist owned vehicles is not yet common in Europe. First it is expensive compared to renting although less risky than stealing or hijacking. Using their own vehicles may affect other linked planned operations as it is easy to link owners and addresses in a split-second check, using the well-designed and sophisticated European Automatic Number Plate recognition system (ANPR). As terrorist get more desperate, we should not be surprised if the use of personal vehicles is introduced as part of a suicide mission.
These sad events point to one fact. Daesh has changed the face of using terror as a successful tactics to a level never seen before in the history of Jihadist terrorism tactics in Europe.
Sadly, we are likely to see this terror tactic change for the worse in the next 20 -30 years to come if we continue to rely on quick response without a holistic preventative strategy.
Without comparing ISIL evil strategy against AL – Qaeda, AL Qaeda was a better enemy to deal with than ISIL. Unlike Al – Qaeda, ISIL cannot be predicted.
As European states become smarter in introducing short term policy solutions with a slow pace to address the underlying push and pull factors that attracts young men and women to become violent extremist, Daesh has become increasingly lethal, innovative, leaving security services and stakeholders play catch up always. We cannot predict where and how they will carry out their next attack. Clearly, the likelihood at which at individual can be caught up in a terrorist attack in Europe on more than one occasion has now increased under the banner of Daesh.
Consider the random, significance and impact of Daesh inspired or directed attacks in London Bridge (June 3, 2017), Manchester UK (May 22, 2017), Stockholm Sweden (April 7, 2017), St Petersburg Russia (April 3, 2017), London Westminster (March 22, 2017), Istanbul Turkey (January 1, 2017), Berlin Germany (19th December 2016), Normandy France (June 26, 2016), Munich Germany (July 22, 2016) Nice Paris (June 14, 2016) and Brussels, Belgium (March 22, 2016).
The deadly attacks on innocent pedestrians in Barcelona and Cambrils is conclusive evidence that Daesh has stumbled upon a cheap, easy, unpredictable, indefensible, disorganised and effective tactics to hurt its far enemy in European cities.
Unfortunately, Daesh has mastered the art of urban guerrilla asymmetric warfare where one sees the ‘enemy’ but the enemy cannot possibly see them.
‘Quick’ response as a counter measure from security services is often too late as the assailants would have already murdered many innocent citizens. SOS soldiers in the streets in the aftermath of an attack is not only ineffective but unsustainable as the enemy remains invincible within a majority innocent community. Daesh has practically surpassed AL Qaeda in both strategy, tactics and operational reach.
Unlike Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda that depended hugely on face to face offline recruitment strategy, Daesh has established a huge online network with the ability to radicalise and inspire new recruits via social media to plan and carry out cheap, random but effective attacks wherever they are.
The final answer is not in erecting bollards on main busy roads or making it more difficult to rent vans or vehicles. Besides the use of lethal weapons like knives, guns, acids, suicide bombs (IEDs, VBIEDs), light or heavy owned or rented trucks, there are thousands of unused lethal methods that terrorist can employ to hurt people.
Governments in Europe need a more nuanced and well-coordinated socio – economic and political solution to violent extremism that enhances on the current military and tactical efforts already in place. At a time when Europe is split over Brexit and the consequences of what happens thereafter, the need to address political differences has surpassed the focus on tackling extremism and violent extremism, leaving a huge gap in Europe – a space that ISIL has spotted and now seeks to occupy permanently.
Europe is in a state of perpetual war and the enemy is hiding amid the people.
Reaching the people who are most at risk requires trust and sincerity on the direction of government domestic and foreign policies and how it affects the common man in the streets.
The objective to maintain civil liberty is a process that begins by turning enemies to friends and hatred to love.
For that to happen, people must be empowered and made aware of what the stakes are, so that they may have the ability to be crime-preventers and at best “see something and say something”.