TSC IntelBrief: ‘Enough is Enough’
Bottom Line Up Front:
• The June 3 terror attack in London that killed seven and wounded dozens more marked the third attack to strike the UK this year.
• Prime Minister Theresa May responded by ordering a review of counterterrorism policies and stating there is ‘far too much tolerance of extremism’.
• The Islamic State claimed credit for the latest attack, yet no details have been made public regarding the identities of the attackers.
• The broad and complex challenges facing the UK—as well as many other countries—in tackling extremism range from issues such as the violent radicalization of youth to the spread of hardline Saudi-funded mosques.
A June 3 terror attack in London left seven people dead and dozens more wounded, marking the third major terror attack to strike the UK this year. The attack prompted serious questions about the need for changes in terms of how the UK and other countries have approached countering extremism. The June 3 attack was similar to previous attacks; the attackers drove a van into pedestrians on London Bridge before running into a crowded market area and attacking more civilians with knives. From Nice, to Berlin, to Ohio State University, to the Westminster Bridge—just to name a few—attackers have answered the call of the Islamic State and al-Qaeda affiliates to use vehicles in an unsophisticated yet deadly style of attack that is exceedingly difficult to counter.
There is little public information about the identities of the three attackers in the June 3 attack. Some reports suggest one of the attackers was motivated by the toxic preachings of Anjem Choudary, though these reports remain unconfirmed. The long-running legal saga of Choudary, who was finally convicted in 2016 for swearing allegiance to the Islamic State after years of espousing extremist ideology, is perhaps the most high-profile example of the UK’s need to reform certain laws pertaining to those openly advocating and promoting hate, extremism, and the ideology of bin-Ladenism. To be clear, restricting freedom in the name of alleged security runs in direct opposition to the goals and workings of a free society; societies that sacrifice freedom for security tend to end up with neither. Yet, in the UK in particular, there are likely further steps and other approaches that can be taken to address the very real threat posed by individuals such as Anjem Choudary that remain consistent with the principles of a free society.
According to some reports, security services in the UK are facing a threat matrix that, like in other European countries such as France and Germany, completely overwhelms their ability to effectively assess and prioritize threats. With as many as 3,000 or more individuals considered serious threats—and thousands more at various other levels of concern—the UK’s intelligence and security organizations are struggling to keep up with a problem that shows no sign of abating.
There are, of course, many reasons for the uptick in violent extremism in the UK and elsewhere. The Syrian civil war, as well as conflicts in places like Libya and Yemen, have proven to be unprecedented generators and exporters of terrorism. Iraq continues to battle the Islamic State, and even when Iraqi forces retake Mosul, the Iraqi government and society will face crushing challenges in terms of extremism. In the UK and elsewhere, the issue of proliferating violent extremism is complicated by the massive expansion of Saudi-funded mosques, which for decades have been linked to the spread of a fundamentalist form of Islam that has in part contributed to the spread of extremist ideology. A UK government report on the funding of terrorism—reportedly focused on Saudi links—remains classified and unreleased by Prime Minister May’s government 18 months after its commission. With a significant spike in the operational tempo of attacks in the UK, the British government’s response to the latest terror attack will need to be comprehensive and seek to better address the continuing drivers of violent radicalization, both domestically and abroad.
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