Berlin attack: Is it possible to stop such attacks?

What happened in Berlin looks like the Nice copycat attack whatever the motive is. Is there any lesson learned out of it in terms of police work and counterterrorism or we have to simply accept that it is impossible to stop somebody who decided to use a truck as a weapon? Read few comments.

Sam Mullins*, Professor of Counterterrorism, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies

Attacks of this nature are of course incredibly difficult to prevent for a variety of reasons, not least being the inherent vulnerability of crowds of people in public places, and even if an attacker was under 24-hour surveillance this would not be a guarantee of success. Nevertheless, it is vital that we try to learn as much as we can from each and every attack. For instance, there may have been missed opportunities to identify the perpetrator/perpetrators earlier, or there may have been additional security measures that could have been taken either in responding to the apparent theft of the truck, or in securing the venue. More attacks like this will inevitably occur, unfortunately; however, the odds of being personally caught up in one remain extremely low.

* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S.  and/or Germany Government.

David Lowe, Principal Lecturer, Law School, Liverpool John Moores University

Many are saying this is a copycat, but it is a recognised type of attack to expect, certainly sicken al-Adonai’s 2014 fatwa. Al-Adnani who was killed in August this year in a drone attack in Raqqa, was Islamic State’s main spokesman for IS and in his fatwa he encouraged individuals to carry out attacks in states in the West by any means and listed a few, which included getting into a vehicle and driving into a crowd of people. This has happened on a number of occasions in Europe, mainly France on a much smaller scale than that seen in Nice in July or Berlin last night.

This is a problem for state agencies involved in counter-terrorism as this type of attack is difficult to prevent. This difficulty is enhanced when it is carried out by a person who may not be on any intelligence systems who is inspired by what they see and hear by extremist groups. There are certain public events the policing agencies and security services can assess will be at risk and take the necessary precautions to try and prevent such attacks. At this time of year, especially throughout Europe many large cities have Christmas markets and it is almost impossible, even from a logistical position to have sufficient resources to make every market safe. It might be for similar future events that precautions are taken at the perimeter of area where large numbers of people gather such as physical obstacles to prevent large vehicles entering the area. This is difficult and in addition to this if this is in place terrorists will find another method of attack ranging from a bomb to simply attacking people with a knife or other bladed instrument.

This said the number of attacks that have happened in Europe in the last couple of years is still relatively small, suggesting that most of the time we are safe to go about our everyday business and leisure. The problem is when you do have an attack it is the high number of fatalities and casualties that is impactive and can cause fear in people. On top of that you look at when these attacks occur. Last night’s attack is in the build up to Christmas where people are wanting to celebrate or simply socialise and enjoy themselves. As we saw in Nice in July, again it was a period of celebration (Bastille Day) even in Susse in Tunisia in 2015 the victims were Western tourists enjoying their holiday. This does not mean the police and security services simply give in and accept nothing can be done, a lot is done to prevent as many attacks as possible and as such it has made it harder for people to carry out attacks. This is another reason why in the last 12 months we have seen in some European states like France, Germany and the UK wider statutory powers being introduced to assist their respective security services and policing agencies to monitor electronic communications. Last night in Berlin was another tragic chapter in the recent attacks suffered in Europe and reinforces the point made by the Provisional IRA after the Brighton bombing in 1984 that the state has to be lucky 100% of the time, the terrorist just once.

Edwin BakkerProfessor, Director Centre for Terrorism & Counter-Terrorism, Leiden University

Not really. It is impossible to protect most of these events as they are downtown and it is impossible to block all traffic to avoid just this type or attack. And of course this does not protect us against attacks such as the ones in Paris or Brussels with people with fire arms.

Some symbolic measures are maybe needed to deal with threat perceptions (extra police on these locations) some smart road blocks, but that is it.

Unfortunately yes, it is impossible to stop attack like this. But let us not forget that we live in the safest part of the world and that the statistical chance you and I will be hit by such an attack is close to zero.

Unfortunately the ‘success’ of this attack might inspire others to do the same. I can imagine that some people will not take their families to a Christmas market the coming days.

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