On August 17, 2017 the latest in a series of horrific radical Islamic terrorist attacks shocked the world in its brutality and wanton disregard for human life. This time, the location was Las Ramblas Promenade in Barcelona, Spain. One of the terrorists drove a van at a high rate of speed deliberately into the pedestrians strolling through the area. As I write this, 13 people have been murdered and an additional 100 or more have been injured, many of them seriously.
By all accounts, it was a horrific scene, with victims scattered like bowling pins all over the street. ISIS wasted no time in taking credit for the attack, blathering that it was executed by “soldiers of the Islamic State….to target countries participating in the coalition to drive it from Syria and Iraq.” Josep Luis Trapero, a senior police official of the Catalonia region, which is located in the northeastern area of Spain and includes Barcelona, advised reporters: “It was clearly a terror attack, intended to kill as many people as possible.”
Las Ramblas is a beautiful tree-lined walkway in central Barcelona that runs between a huge plaza and the harbor. It is a very popular destination for both locals and tourists who desire to partake of the fine ships, sight-seeing, street performers, and restaurants in the area. It is a place to “see and be seen.” Pauline Frommer, editorial director of the world-renowned Frommer’s guidebooks calls Las Ramblas “Barcelona’s Champs Elysees or Times Square.” It is a perfect “soft target” for a terrorist attack.
This latest attack was far from an isolated incident. In point of fact, Islamic terror attacks in Europe have been rising sharply since 2014, reaching almost epidemic proportions. Before then, there had not been too many, the notable exceptions being the Madrid train bombings in 2004 and the London bombings in 2005. According to Europol, terror attacks in Europe attributable to radical Islamic terrorists have increased from four in 2014 to 17 in 2015 and 135 in 2016. Murders have jumped from four in 2014 to 150 in 2015 and 135 in 2016.
There are many reasons for this frightening increase. I believe the major ones are:
- A consequence of the Syrian Civil War. Many of the countries that have been targeted were those which participated in or supported Operation Inherent Resolve (the military intervention against ISIS in Syria), for instance, Great Britain, France, Germany and Turkey. France, alone, has suffered ten attacks between December 2014 and June 2017. (It should be noted that even neutral countries, such as Belgium and Sweden, have been victimized.)
- The European Union’s open borders policy. I have blogged on this most ill-advised policy before. It enables terrorists to move freely throughout Europe. Americans who oppose strong border controls in the US would be well advised to take heed. Here is empirical evidence of the consequences of lax border controls.
- Lax enforcement. Whether the result of Islamophobia, carelessness, poor policing and security procedures, or incompetence, the result has been the same. Law enforcement agencies are just now awakening to the terrorist problem in their midst. For example, French Prime Minister Manuel Valls has claimed that in just the three months following the Charlie Hebdo attack France foiled five additional terrorist attacks; Mark Rowley, assistant commissioner of London’s Metropolitan Police, claims that UK security services have foiled 13 terror attacks since mid-2013; and the Prosecutor General of Russia said that his country has foiled 12 terrorist attacks in just the first six months of 2017. Better late than, never, I suppose.
- Muslim immigrants’ reluctance to assimilate. In many European cities Muslims have remained concentrated in their own areas of these cities for many years, or even, for generations, adhering to their own customs and language, and even Sharia Law. In Paris and London the police have acknowledged that there are areas in which even they fear to tread. Thus, these areas have often become breeding grounds for radicalization, and counter-terrorism efforts are severely hampered.
Reactions from world leaders were typical. Everyone expressed shock, horror, sympathy and support. That is fine as far as it goes, but it will do nothing to resolve the problem of radical Islamic terrorism. Even now, certain liberal politicians on both sides of the Atlantic will not even utter the phrase, “radical Islamic terrorism.” I ask, how can one defeat it if one will not even acknowledge it?
The Times of Israel reported that following this latest terror attack Barcelona’s chief rabbi, Meir Bar-Hen, stated that “the Jewish community in Barcelona is ‘doomed,’ ” because local law enforcement refuses to “confront radical Islam.” He went so far as to urge local Jews to emigrate to Israel. Hyperbole? Perhaps, but it is an indication of the unease that permeates the Barcelona Jewish community as well as other areas of Europe. Jewish emigration from Europe to Israel has been on the rise in recent years.
Several media outlets have reported that the Spanish police have made two arrests, but the van driver remains free. Well and good, but the best way to keep people safe is to prevent attacks beforehand. The old expression “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” may be somewhat trite, but I think it is applicable to this situation. As I have stated above, although European police agencies have demonstrated improvement in this area, they still have a long way to go.