The horrific murder of a soldier by a pair of self-described jihadis, in broad daylight on the streets of London yesterday, posed quite a conundrum. London is already a gigantic “gun-free zone,” although according to some reports the jihad killers somehow managed to get their hands on a firearm anyway. The murder weapons were knives and cleavers, which are common household and garden implements. The murderers began their savage and cowardly attack by running the victim down with a car, but despite the best efforts of environmentalists, cars haven’t been banned yet. So… what can the British government ban in response to this attack?
As the UK Telegraph reports, the move is not without precedent:
Defence sources said the order had been given that uniform should not be worn by those travelling alone, or on public transport as a “common sense precaution” immediately after the killing
A source stressed the order was temporary while investigations into the killing carried on and the decision would be reviewed in the next few days.
Col Richard Kemp, who commanded British forces in Afghanistan, said it would be a mistake to reinstate an earlier permanent bar on military personnel wearing uniforms in public. That ban was put in force because of an IRA campaign in the 1970s and 1980s to target personnel in Britain, Germany and Holland.
“Personally, I would argue against it,” he told the Today programme. “As we saw in this case you don’t need to have somebody in uniform, you just need to have someone who knows a bit about soldiers and does a bit of observation in the vicinity of a barracks and you can identify a soldier very quickly.
If you’ve reached the point where you have to pull your troops off your own streets, the enemy is winning.
Colonel Kemp has different ideas about what should be done:
“I think we should be right to think about ways of protecting ourselves better but I think it would be wrong to suggest we live in a state of fear of this type of attack continuing.
“I think it is possible further attacks will be inspired by this type of attack… one of the biggest priorities for the services is to look at the role of the internet in motivating people and look very carefully at which radical sites should be suppressed on the internet, as well, of course, as more direct preaching in some of the mosques in this country which has caused people to turn to radicalism and terrorism before.
“That’s another area we need to put more resources into again.”
But according to the New York Times, such measures are already in place, at least as far as radical websites are concerned. It’s not clear what the Colonel would propose doing about the “more direct preaching in some of the mosques” in his country.
Britain has suffered more than any other country in Northern Europe from Islamic terrorist plots in recent years, and it has worked assiduously to prevent more. Security officials have said that at any given time they are tracking hundreds of young men in extremist networks.
But small-scale attacks can be hard to detect. The SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadi Web sites, distributed a posting from one on Wednesday after the London killing. Dating from July 2011, the message on Shumukh al-Islam, a militant Web site that has been linked to Al Qaeda, urges followers to mount “lone-wolf operations” that might include beheadings.
Since “small-scale attacks can be hard to detect,” maybe the Brits should consider allowing soldiers to carry the tools of their trade, and see if the barbarians still want to play with knives. And if they trusted their citizens with the right of self-defense, people wouldn’t have to mill around for 20 minutes while knife-wielding thugs draft them into service as cameramen for jihad snuff films.
Taken together with the Boston Marathon bombing in the United States, the London machete attack might signal a new era of these “lone wolf” attacks, in which the jihadis don’t make the mistake of soliciting assistance from people who turn out to be government agents. There have been several small-scale plots in the United States thwarted this way over the years, including the Portland Christmas Tree bomber in 2010, and the guy who wanted to fly remote-controlled planes packed with explosives into the U.S. Capitol and Pentagon in 2012. Outside the realm of jihadists, the Occupy Cleveland bridge bombers were also caught by an FBI sting operation.
But if the terrorists don’t make contact with the sort of people who tend to be on counter-terrorism watch lists, and don’t go looking for outside help to pull off their attacks, the risk of getting caught drops considerably, especially when government agencies practice a certain studied refusal to notice less overt signals of radicalization. If the implements of terror are kept as simple as homemade bombs or knives, detection and prevention become highly problematic, so all that remains is response.