And again, there is mass murder in the name of nothing valuable. And once again, it is France that suffers, enduring its third major terror attack in 19 months.
A man identified as Mohamed Bouhlel, 31, a petty thief and deliveryman, plowed a large truck a mile through that city’s Bastille Day celebrations, killing at least 84 people, including 10 children and teenagers. With many more critically injured, the toll seems certain to rise.
No outside groups have claimed responsibility, though it is impossible to escape the conclusion that it is part of the terrorism that has become increasingly common around the world, mainly practiced by people who falsely claim to follow Islam. Internet accounts associated with ISIS and al-Qaida have celebrated the deaths.
The world has to get better at dealing with this threat, but it is not a simple task.
France is suffering. In November, terror attacks in Paris killed 90 people, including many attending a concert inside a theater. The previous January, terrorists attacked workers in the office of Charlie Hebdo, a satirical magazine. Twelve people were killed and 12 others wounded. Simultaneous attacks occurred elsewhere in France on the same day.
On Thursday, it was Nice, attacked on France’s day of independence. Bouhlel drove a truck onto the city’s famed Promenade des Anglais, bordering the Mediterranean Sea, and rammed into pedestrians for 1.1 miles before police killed him. Although authorities knew him for thefts and burglaries, he was apparently on no terror watch list.
That, perhaps, is what makes this attack especially frightening. If, in fact, Bouhlel is the kind of “lone wolf” actor that anti-terror groups have warned about, his attack offers a sobering look into the dangers that can be posed by evil men and women who are motivated to commit indiscriminate mass murder. Those people may not show up on watch lists, having concealed their homicidal inclinations or having been recently radicalized through the internet or another source.
It’s another example of why this problem is more like crime – which never entirely goes away – rather than traditional war that has a defined ending. The “war” against ISIS may be coming to a conclusion, as it loses territory in Iraq and Syria and has begun preparing its followers for the demise of the caliphate it had aimed to establish. Yet, the fight goes on, as ISIS and other terror groups export the idea of mass murder as a tool to sow fear and disruption.
That’s why authorities must do a better job of working together to produce more reliable and detailed intelligence that is shared with other countries, including France and, if realistically possible, even Russia. As Winston Churchill said in 1941 regarding Josef Stalin and the USSR, “If Hitler invaded hell I would make at least a favorable reference to the devil in the House of Commons.”
Indeed, all civilized nations should be declarative in their determination to work together in waging this fight to eliminate these zealots who kill without compunction. It’s a different kind of pincer movement: knocking out the threat that exists while, as best as possible, depriving ISIS and other such organizations of recruits to replace them.
That’s a tall order, and one that is probably beyond fully achieving. What is needed are more creative approaches by the United States and other countries and an understanding by citizens of democracies that such tactics as gathering metadata on phone usage and infiltrating organizations where terror may incubate can be acceptable in a democracy that values its traditions but acknowledges the nature of this ongoing, bloodthirsty threat.