Security expert Dr Dave Sloggett explores the inevitability of another major terrorist attack occurring in the west:
The term ‘Perfect Storm’ has become embedded in our (western) language. It first use in the Oxford English Dictionary has been traced back to 1718. Its use became more popular after Hollywood used it as a title for a major movie.
It is used to describe a series of events where a rare combination of circumstances will suddenly combine to aggravate an existing situation driving towards a tipping point. The sum of these parts in a phenomenon that is an event that is ‘of unusual magnitude’.
For those familiar with the current developments on the international security landscape it is possible to argue that many of the conditions required to create a perfect storm resulting in a major terrorist attack in the west exist.
Perhaps the most significant of these elements is the continuing appeal of ISIL to people in the west. With estimates of the numbers of that have actually made the journey to Iraq and Syria seemingly on an irreversible upward slope the risks to western society from those who might return with malign intent is clear. Already an attack in Brussels that saw four people die in a Jewish Centre illustrates the potential for such attacks.
The argument that this was carried out by a lone wolf is valid. But a lone wolf also carried out the deadly attack on a beach in Tunisia that saw thirty Britons killed. This highlighted the deadly potential of even a single gunman when an attack is planned against a vulnerable location.
Aside from the actions of Ander Breivik in Norway, motivated by a very different form of hatred, the attack in Tunisia is arguably one of the worst yet carried out by a lone wolf. But that frightening scenario of a repeat of that kind of attack against westerners holidaying in places like Spain is not the end of the problems we all now face.
Drawing upon the model of friendship and brotherhood that many will have gained working fighting alongside each other in Iraq and Syria the threat to western societies that is currently believed to originate from ‘lone wolfs’ will surely evolve. Arguably it is a matter of time before a group attack similar to that which happened on 7 July 2005 in London strikes again.
Infiltrate attackers into the west
But this time it will not be a group inspired by Al Qaeda’s ideas and thinking it will originate from ISIL and it will be a well-organised group involved not a single gunman. To stop such an event before it becomes yet another piece in a puzzle that forms the basis of the perfect storm the west has to act more directly against the narrative that extols the virtues of travelling to Iraq and Syria.
ISIL’s attraction is based on its very sophisticated marketing of its central theme based on the creation of a new Caliphate. This has already seen former Al Qaeda franchises across Africa, including the deadly Boko Haram, pledge an oath of allegiance to ISIL. Rumours are also circulating of a similar defection by Al Shabab in Somalia.
With Al Qaeda apparently in retreat however it is possible to argue that this is also a highly risky point for the west. What better time than now for Al Qaeda to show that it still retains the ability to strike at the west. The pledge of allegiance to Al Qaeda issued by the new leader of its Yemeni franchise Qassem Al-Rimi is notable as they remain the one franchise that has always adhered to Al Qaeda’s doctrine of attacking the west.
They have been behind many of the successful attacks in the west including the Charlie Hebdo massacre. If they had followed the pathway trodden by other former franchises they could have presented ISIL with their established networks and knowledge of how to infiltrate attackers into the west.
With such high profile former franchises choosing to support and foreswear their previous oath to Al Qaeda the strength of ISIL grows and with it the inevitability that at some point it will try and surpass the horrors of September 11. If ISIL was to become serious about an attack in the west it would have to pass previous benchmarks for it to meet the expectation that it has already set about it ambitions.
But how might it do that? The worries over international terrorist groups obtaining any one of a number of weapons of mass destruction has been at the core of much of the allied military response to ISIL. The Khorasan Group thought to be based around Aleppo have been the target of specific intervention by the United States military in Syria. They are rumoured to be involved in the development of the kind of technologies that could lead either Al Qaeda or ISIL to develop some form of weapon of mass destruction.
ISIL are already known to have mastered the development of chemical weapons in Syria. The use of chlorine as part of an improvised chemical weapon has already been a feature of attacks conducted both by the Assad regime and ISIL associated groups. If that capability where to be transferred to the west by someone returning from Iraq or Syria a truly horrifying picture of what could arise as a result of its use is easy to imagine.
At the end of 2001 as the world reeled from the attacks in the United States the question of everyone’s lips was where will the next attack occur? The second question was and how will it be delivered? Today fourteen years on from that attack there are those in the west that believe that the events of September 11 will be unique, never to be repeated.
They are the optimists. Anyone looking at the way the international terrorist landscape is currently evolving however might well take a different view. The elements for the perfect storm are gradually falling into place. The only problem this time is the result will be even more devastating that the cyclone turned hurricane called the 1991 ‘Halloween nor’easter’ which provided the basis of the film script that welded the term ‘perfect storm’ into our language.