The nature of terrorist attacks are changing. When one mentions ‘terrorism’, many still think of suicide bombers on airplanes, or attacks resulting in mass destruction, 9/11, for example. However, in more recent times we have been faced with various smaller scale attacks such as the past week’s Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris. While these acts of terrorism have a lower body count than a ‘mass casualty attack‘ (attacks that involve huge amounts of planning and with the intention to result in a high death toll), small-scale attacks should by no means be taken less seriously.
Acts of terrorism which involve only a few insurgents and victims are called ‘lone wolf attacks.’ The issue with these is that they are becoming increasingly difficult for the Secret Service (MI5, GCHQ and MI6) to latch on to and track because of their smaller scale, due to the seemingly little complex planning over the phone or online between those involved in carrying them out.
Notably, this problem has been made particularly prevalent after the lone-wolf killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013. Facebook was criticised for not flagging extremist comments and communications on their website, made by one of Fusilier Rigby’s killers before the incident. As a result, plans have been made to step up co-operation between social media firms and security services, in an attempt to make it easier to scope out extremists on these websites.
While this is encouraging, it is evident that there has been an influx of terror threats in the past six months alone. Since the UK Terror Threat has been pushed up to ‘Severe’ in August (which means ‘attack highly likely,’ which is the last terror level before ‘Critical’ meaning ‘an attack is expected imminently’), there have been three foiled terrorist plots led by IS (Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL) that would have otherwise resulted in deaths, according to Director General of the Security Service, Andrew Parker.
On top of these attacks, analyses by the British Secret Service have identified that there have been over twenty terrorist plots since 2013, either provoked or controlled by extremist groups in Syria. There is only so much time before a plot slips through the surveillance net of even the Secret Service. ‘We cannot hope to stop everything,’ says the head of MI5.
A less well known extremist group which has recently sparked attention is the ‘Khorasan’ cell, which is thought to be made up of veteran jihadists sent to Syria by al Qaida’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The organisation is made up of approximately fifty high ranking fighters and skilled bomb makers, and is known to include radicalised Britons who have travelled out to fight in Syria.
In September, the USA sent out air strikes to this cell’s base, as intelligence confirmed they were in the final stages of planning a large scale attack against Western targets, including the United States. Even after these air strikes, the secret service has made announcements regarding Khorasan over the past week about their continuation on plans of staging a mass casualty attack on the West.
At the time of writing, the aftermath of the Paris attacks is still unfolding. The nature of terrorism is often unpredictable and constantly changing, but the fact of the matter is that it is a threat which does not end after an attack is carried out or once the perpetrators are dead. The fight against terrorism continues, and the way things are looking now, the situation will get worse before it gets better. The massacre carried out at the Charlie Hebdo headquarters is unjustifiable, and every attacker involved in the operation should be condemned to the highest degree. It should be duly noted that their actions are not representative of Islam as a religion; terrorism does not have a religion.