“Terror globalization” in New Year’s Eve: The Tokyo and Manchester attacks – by Maria Alvanou

New Year’s Eve was- as expected- a difficult time for security officials worldwide, trying to make sure that the festive celebrations would not be marred by a terror attack. Despite all efforts, two attacks, one in Japan and one in the UK took place and each of them is important for different reasons. Some first comments while the law enforcement research is ongoing are the following:

  1. The Tokyo attack is an example of what can be called «globalization of terrorism», with special reference to terror operational methodologies. Vehicle ramming attacks started to concern experts when they emerged as a tactic used by Palestinians in the so called «Third Intifada». They soon became a security problem for the West (along with knife attacks), when perpetrators affiliated ideologically with the Daesh terror network started using them in European cities. No special preparation needed, availability of cars, the element of surprise, big terror and media impact are some of the characteristics that made this operational method a good strategic choice for terrorists. Though news of such an attack create immediately to many the assumption that it must be an islamist operation, actually far right actors have carried out similar attacks. And now in Japan, a perpetrator opposing the death penalty and allegedly supporting the organization «Aum Shinrikyo»[1] has used this attack to express his terror motivation. Yesterday’s event must have made clear to everyone that there are no such things as «copyright» and «exclusive» in terrorism, no «red lines» and no «red lines» that cannot be crossed. Successful terror operations will be copied by individual actors or organizations according to their aims and benefit. When a terror attacks take place, the operational choice must serve just as a hint concerning who can be behind, according always to statistics (how often a group or individuals inspired by it have used that operational choice). It is not conclusive, since other terrorists can take advantage of successful prior operations to carry out their own plans. Terrorism has a strategic parameter that cannot be overlooked and research must be more focused exactly on that. Additionally security has to be planned according to sensitive targets and of attack that work for terrorists (not just focusing on one typology of terrorist actors).
  2. The Manchester knife attack is nothing new, in the sense that unfortunately such types of attack are expected in the UK. Most of the operational characteristics above mentioned for the use of vehicles by terrorists apply also here. Using a knife actually can be even easier than a car and stabbing can express in more close contact personal aggressiveness and murderous feelings towards the victims. What is interesting in this last Manchester though is the reported comment made by the arrested perpetrator regarding the continuation of bombing other countries as the reason for this attack and others to come[2]. Although the «Allahu Akbar» cry[3] before the stabbings is supposed to signify the islamist character of the attack[4], the perpetrator has expressed a motive that has nothing to do with a “shaheed’s” identity or goals. He has clearly stated that his actions are the aftermath, the consequence of the international policy of the UK (or even the West in general). The message is that terror attacks are serving as retaliation for foreign policy and military intervention in other countries. As the West is attacking other countries (and probably if the perpetrator is part of the Daesh network, he is mostly interested in what has been going on in the Middle East), members of the islamist terror network will attack Western/European countries.

Because Islamists put forward their religious message that works for propaganda purposes, to recruit members and unify their terror movement, we tend to forget that there is also a political agenda and message behind their actions. Moreover, people who carry out attacks inspired by the Daesh network can have a variety of grievances and motives. The “religious terrorism” label should not be held as an absolute truth, denying other characteristics and levels of the terror phenomenon and its message. Human beings are complicated creatures, plus terror organizations and networks are multifaceted. There is political and international relations issues that are related with islamist terrorism that go beyond its distortion of Islam.

2018 was a year that terrorism left its mark in several countries. It made its horrific presence obvious even on the last day. While New Year atmosphere requires an optimistic approach, we cannot realistically expect that 2019 will be terror-free. The odds are against such a prediction. The best we can strive for is good and solid security that will foil most of the planned attacks. How terrorism has been evolving around the globe and especially its various operational forms are essential in order to prevent as many future attacks as possible.

[1] http://edition.cnn.com/2018/12/31/asia/tokyo-new-years-eve-car-incident-harajuku-intl/index.html

[2] http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-6543365/Knife-attacker-armed-long-blade-stabs-three-people-Manchesters-Victoria-Station.html

[3] Ibid.

[4] Along with other phrases attributed to the attacker, insinuating that he is affiliated with Daesh, ibid.