Sam Mullins*, Professor of Counterterrorism, George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies
Less than three years ago we saw a similar attack by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau in Ottawa and there is certainly additional symbolic value in conducting attacks directed at, or near to, the seat of government. We also know that lone-actor terrorists in particular are often influenced by the actions of other, similar terrorists they see or read about in the news. However, the motivation and status of the current perpetrator, including any connections to other extremists and terrorists, are yet to be confirmed. Furthermore, although it is not impossible that others will be inspired by recent events in London to also attack political targets, it is unlikely that this will be the beginning of major trend in targeting-preferences among jihadists.
There is a great deal of variety in jihadist targeting, but it is largely dictated by a combination of opportunity, offender knowledge of and proximity to particular areas and capability, besides the value of any given target. That said, it is perhaps more significant that the recent attack (again, assuming it is jihadist in nature) targeted police. Soft, civilian targets are still the norm, but jihadist terrorists have increasingly targeted members of the police and military in recent years. In sum, I would be surprised if this marked the beginning of a pronounced trend towards political targets. Jihadist attacks in Western countries will likely remain varied and opportunistic above all else, primarily including a mix of civilian, police and military targets.
* These views do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. and/or German Government.
James J.F. Forest, Professor of Security Studies, University of Massachusetts Lowell
The attack in London was, in my view, reflective of a pattern we have seen among other Jihadist-inspired terrorist attacks across Europe and the U.S.
The perpetrators of these attacks are mostly amateurs, unable to acquire any sophisticated weapons and thus limited to the means they have available to them – in this case, a vehicle and knives.
Jihadist terrorist networks have always encouraged attacks against symbolic targets in the West. I don’t believe this is a sign anything new in that regard.
Many of us in the U.S. are impressed with the “keep calm and carry on” response we are seeing among many Londoners. When a community is resilient and vigilant, the terrorists fail to achieve their primary goal of coercing behavior through fear and violence.
If anything, I imagine we will see concrete barriers being put along walkways of bridges and other public spaces like this in response. Physical security may protect some types of areas, but it is not an overly effective way to combat terrorism.
The best ways to combat terrorism involve intelligence gathering and analysis, identifying potential threats based on an individual’s behavior. When community members report to their local law enforcement their concerns about someone exhibiting the behavioral indicators of radicalization, that’s a much more effective way to combat terrorism.
Anthony Glees, Professor, Director, Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies, University of Buckingham
Yes, I think we all need to be careful of symbolic attacks, trophy attacks are important to Islamists. But we’ve had them before. Parliament is well guarded but not that well guarded; the main gate to parliament is an easy entrance for a determined killer to master.
Steve Hewitt, Senior Lecturer in American and Canadian Studies, University of Birmingham
In terms of the nature of the target, terrorists by their nature want attention and publicity. What better place to hit to achieve this then literally the centre of power in the United Kingdom in relation to not only politics but also the media, tourism, etc.