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Barcelona Van Attack

Whether by direct command or mere toxic exhortation, the fading of the Islamic State continues to spew terror attacks across Europe. Vehicle attacks have become all the rage over the past 13 months or so: there have been eight so far in 2017. This time ISIS’s self-styled chariot of retributions struck Barcelona; a speeding van killed at least 13, and wounded around 100, on the city’s main pedestrian tourist drag, Las Ramblas. This attack seems to have been a more-or-less standard vehicle atrocity of the sort that Islamist terrorists have pioneered so successfully.

The apparent primitivism of the turn towards using vehicles as engines of destruction is a little illusory: such attacks spark good footage of chaos in part because everyone in a crowded street can be expected to carry a camera phone. Unsophisticated violence piggy-backs on sophisticated communications technology. Given how much attention can be generated by so little preparation, we are highly unlikely to see this tactic disappear anytime soon. Disturbingly, indeed, it seems now to be becoming adopted by far-right extremists as seen both at Finsbury Park, London (19 June) and Charlottesville, USA  (12 August). Good times apparently lie ahead for those in the business of making ‘anti-ramming landscape features’ (i.e. barricades and bollards).

Although history will be of no comfort to those bereaved or traumatised by this latest horror, it is perhaps worth remembering that Barcelona has survived more intense violence than this in the recent past. Street fighting and aerial bombing in the civil war (1936 to 1939) killed thousands. A car bomb planted by Basque separatists took the lives of 15 (20 June 1987); while nearly 100 years before that, a notorious anarchist bombing on Las Ramblas slaughtered 22 people attending the opera (7 November 1893). Great cities are nothing if not resilient: and Barcelona was already old when the Romans arrived.

Dr Tim Wilson
Director, Centre for the Study of Terrorism and Political Violence
17 August 2017

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