ISIS seems to have offered an Internet hunting license for every unbalanced, violent young man who happens to be a Muslim to go out and slay his neighbors. This has produced a spate of attacks in recent weeks, primarily in France and Germany, utilizing low-tech methods—an axe, a knife, a truck—that are extremely difficult to stop.
The worst of these was the truck rampage in Nice that killed 84 people. But there is something especially horrific about a couple of fanatics slitting the throat of a beloved and elderly French parish priest–the Rev. Jacques Hamel–who had devoted his life to his flock. That is an outrage that breaks through the numbness induced by the nonstop stream of terrorism. It is not the deadliest attack but in some ways it is the most shocking. The whole world joins France in grief.
The response has to be two-fold: to step up domestic security and intelligence gathering while increasing efforts to demolish the Islamic State. Ending the Islamic State will not end the terrorist threat but will take away some of its ideological appeal; even suicide bombers don’t like to die in a losing cause.
As for domestic security: The gaps are obvious when one of the priest-killers in France had been detained for 10 months after twice trying to travel to Syria and then had been confined to partial home detention. He was supposed to wear an electronic monitor and only go out during certain hours of the day. Unfortunately he chose one of those hours to murder Rev. Hamel. It’s obvious that the judge overseeing this case made a tragic mistake–one that the French legal system must be careful not to repeat in the future. For all of President Hollande’s talk of going to “war” against ISIS following the attacks in Paris, France still has a long way to go in its response.
So does Germany, which has been struck in less spectacular fashion. One particular feature of German attacks in recent weeks has been the news that at least two of the attackers—the Iranian-German teenager who shot nine people in Munich and the Syrian refugee who blew himself up in Ansbach—had both been diagnosed with mental illness and had received psychiatric treatment. Yet they were not institutionalized and it is doubtful that the police in their areas knew about their mental health issues.
This recalls the fiasco of a Germanwings flight in 2015 that was flown straight into a mountain by a suicidal pilot. Andreas Lubitz had received psychiatric treatment but apparently Lufthansa, which owns Germanwings, knew nothing of his mental illness because of German privacy laws. It would be instructive to find out if those same privacy laws are shielding potential terrorists from detection. If so the laws need to be adjusted in favor of public safety. More broadly Germany needs to loosen rules on domestic surveillance. It’s understandable that Germans have concerns about civil liberties given their country’s history, but the government needs to be given wider domestic surveillance powers to stop this onslaught of terrorism.
There is no way to stop all such attacks, but it is possible to stop more of them by taking more active counter-terrorism measures. This should be a priority not just for Europe but for the United States as well, which has been hit in, inter alia, San Bernardino and Orlando. There is no way to predict where an ISIS killer will strike next. It could be Europe. It could be the United States. We’d all better strengthen our defenses.