The tide of ISIS’s terrorism in Europe broke on January 7, 2015 at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket. That attack heralded the start of waves of ISIS directed or inspired attacks that have washed over Europe in the years since. On Thursday, August 17, 2017, terror came to Barcelona. We’ve seen this before. A van rammed into crowds on the busiest street in the city, Las Ramblas at 5 pm. It drove through the crowds, apparently swerving and weaving for maximum impact. The driver of the van is responsible for the deaths of 14 people, and of wounding over 100, 14 of whom are in a critical condition. The driver fled the scene on foot and is, at the time of writing, still at large.
Five suspects were then shot dead in Cambrils, a coastal town 75 miles from Barcelona. The working assumption is that they’re part of the same network as the driver. Meanwhile, early on Thursday morning, there was an explosion at a house in Alcanar Platja, where another member of the network blew himself up with his own bomb.
Islamic State has claimed the attack, saying “Terror is filling the crusaders’ hearts in the Land of Andalusia.” Whether they’re really responsible for this, whether they had some sort of control or role as a guiding hand is not yet known. Time will tell, but the effect is the same even if the attackers were only inspired; another vehicular missile driven by a jihadist mowing down innocent bystanders, guilty of heresy in the eyes of those who murdered them.
We can expect many more of these. Britain has 23,000 suspected jihadists. Belgium has 18,884. France has between 15–17,000. Germany has 24,400. Spain has 1000. This totals around 82-84,677 potential jihadists in 5 European countries. While we must not give in to fear-mongering and the temptation to paint with too broad a brush when describing diverse communities, we cannot pretend that these numbers represent anything other than a jihadist insurgency in the heart of Europe. This has destroyed the state’s monopoly over the use of military force, which as Max Weber argued, is the crucial element that gives the state legitimacy.
These vehicle attacks are now a trend in Europe that have become worryingly frequent. Instead of the tragedy of the commons, we now have the tragedy of the common place. ISIS is not the first to call for trucks and other forms of vehicular terrorism; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular, in their magazine Inspire, gave detailed instructions on how to carry out a vehicular attack. Dabiq, ISIS’s now defunct English language magazine, also gave instructions on vehicular terrorism. Advice included attaching spikes or shards of glass to the front of trucks that were of a certain height and weight in order that they would have maximum physical and psychological impact. From 2010 to 2014, there were attempted car and truck attacks that were either small scale or foiled in the attempt. Nice 2016 saw the first mass casualty attack with over 80 dead. There was then the Berlin Christmas market attack in 2016, and then there have been 6 Islamist attacks using vehicles and one far-right attack so far this year in Europe.