Is the U.S. Prepared for Islamic State’s Latest Terror Tactic?

Is the U.S. Prepared for Islamic State’s Latest Terror Tactic?
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Almost everyone in the U.S. seems to have opinions on Afghanistan, and whether President Trump’s Afghan policy will lead to success. Well, there’s a more pressing and serious threat that needs reckoning. And, it does not constitute Afghanistan, anyway. Both Al-Qaeda and ISIS seem to have been planning something boisterous and, thereby, the U.S. administration needs to be one step ahead. Al-Qaeda has already vowed to derail trains in the U.S. to instill maximum damage to life, property and the U.S. economy.

With the Islamic State on the retreat, it has upped the ante in regards to the attacks it can carry out. The group is currently in a desperate situation, and when these organizations find themselves in seemingly unmanageable positions, they’re likely to strike. The attack in Barcelona just manifests that. From Quebec to Berlin, from Ohio to London, and from Nice to Barcelona, driving vehicles into large crowds have extracted a deadly toll. Terrorists and their tactics are evolving, and these tactics need decoding to prevent future catastrophic attacks.

Let’s be very clear, America is Islamic State’s number one enemy. In the modern age of unconventional warfare and enhanced security, they are unlikely to strike via hijacking or large-scale bombings. When the terrorist outfits can radicalize individuals over the internet, then don’t contemplate large-scale conventional attacks. There is an emerging pattern used in almost all of the lone wolf attacks in the U.S.

Remember Omar Mateen? The perpetrator of the most gruesome attack on U.S. soil since 9/11. Also, do the names Syed Rizwan Farooq and Tashfeen Malik ring a bell?

Lone wolves have now set themselves up for terror operations that don’t even involve explosives. ‘Vehicular’ terrorism is one area Mr. Baghdadi and his comrades, unfortunately, have had considerable success. It is the new realm of terrorism. There’s a reason why terrorists find vehicular terrorism appealing.

In vehicular attacks, coordination patterns are hard to detect. Instead of armed weapons, ramming an automobile into a crowded place might sound ideal to a fanatic. Substantial damage, instilling fear among people, and keeping law enforcement authorities confused and beguiled are the main objectives of such tactics.

Remember. We have got to be one step ahead and decipher terrorists’ planning at a particular point in time.  

Barcelona was Europe’s seventh automobile attack in just one year. The patterns have been eerily similar. As articulated earlier, ISIS is losing territory at a rapid rate and will try to carry out as many attacks as possible. Radicalizing as many individuals as possible via digital platforms, considering the digital and social media prowess of the Islamic State, the threat is as potent as it gets. Take a look at the propaganda news agency ‘Amaq’ to gauge Islamic State’s digital media savvy.

Therefore, if car attacks appear an imminent threat, the question remains, how does the Trump administration to go about preventing it? A two-pronged strategy must be employed.

First, the most obvious, yet the most difficult. Policymakers in the U.S. need to enable local and federal agencies to prevent individuals from being radicalized online. Community intel reports, background assessments matched with behavioral patterns of an individual is an important first step. The expertise of psychologists and sociologists will be a key analytic factor. However, as mentioned previously, it can take an immense toll on all involved, but it is always worth it, isn’t it?

Now comes the second part. Rather less obvious, but simpler to execute. After the incident at Las Ramblas, Australia has devised a full-fledged counterterrorism policy to protect people at crowded places. The plan is referred to as “Australia’s Strategy For Protecting Crowded Places From Terrorism.” The document defines a ‘crowded’ place and goes on to aptly state that ‘owners’ and ‘operators’ of a crowded place need to ensure security of the premises.

The document further reads:

“A number of terrorists worldwide have been detected by bystanders who acted on their initial suspicion that something was ‘not quite right’ about an individual’s activity by reporting this to authorities. Employees working in crowded places and members of the public are often best placed to detect suspicious behaviour. It is important that owners and operators of crowded places do everything they can to raise awareness of possible suspicious behavior among those using their sites.”

Has the Trump administration anything in store to counter such terrorist activities? Is there going to be a counterterrorism policy that will specifically focus on Islamic State’s latest tactics? Will the administration do anything about this latest threat? Let’s hope the answer to all of these questions is a thundering YES.

It is high time that authorities in the U.S. envisage a comprehensive counterterrorism policy that specifically addresses the vehicular terrorism threat. ISIS may just be lining up an attack in the U.S. The question is: Is the United States prepared?


Shazar Shafqat is a counterterrorism and security analyst. His research focuses on Middle East politics and security issues, counterterrorism strategies, and military-related affairs. His commentary on the AF-PAK and Middle East security issues regularly features across renowned media outlets including The Hill, Middle East Eye, Middle East Monitor, The Diplomat, Asia Times, World Policy Journal, Dawn, The News International, The Nation, Daily Times, World Times Magazine, and others. He also appears, infrequently though, at various electronic media platforms to discuss conventional and psychological warfare dynamics and trends across the world. He can be reached at: shazar.shafqat786@gmail.com

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