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Tuesday, 6 June 2017

London attack again: Democracies must coordinate better to get a grip on terrorism (The Times of India - 6 June 2017)

     The latest terrorist attack in England where three attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before stabbing patrons in Borough Market – killing seven and injuring another 48 – shows how difficult it is to prevent such terror plots. This was the second attack on a bridge in London within three months. On March 22 a vehicle had similarly ploughed into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge before the driver fatally stabbed a police officer, killing five people. The modus operandi of the attacks shows they are highly localised and carried out by radicalised individuals with little or no centralised networks, sophisticated weapons or bombs.

     In fact, it would be fair to assume that with the Islamic State (IS) terror group crumbling and losing territory in Iraq and Syria, such lone wolf, autonomous terror strikes will be IS’s chosen mode of operation. The use of cars, trucks and rudimentary weapons such as knives shows that hardly any training or equipment is needed for these individuals to carry out terror plots and get past sophisticated security systems. Second, plural and democratic societies are uniquely vulnerable to terror attacks, which often target citizens enjoying their economic and cultural freedoms.

     The best counter, therefore, would be for democracies to strengthen each other by improving anti-terror coordination and intelligence sharing. Moreover, there’s also a case for Western nations led by the US and UK to avoid radical swings and have a more settled and stable approach in their foreign policies, particularly with respect to volatile regions of the world such as the Middle East. There’s no denying that the US military intervention in Iraq under the George W Bush administration, aided by the UK, followed by a hands-off approach during the Barack Obama years, created conditions for the rise of IS. Today, President Donald Trump oscillates between threatening to bomb IS into history and urging travel bans on people from Muslim nations.
     
     Democracies must realise that Islamist terror groups want to provoke knee-jerk reactions from them so that the extremists can continue to peddle their ‘Islam-under-attack’ propaganda and recruit more foot soldiers to their radical cause. Hence, the best approach would be to deny them such an opportunity, defend democratic and secular values, and pool resources as well as coordinate counterterrorism policy, which must be sharp and specific instead of all-encompassing and vague.

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