In Barcelona and Finland, Europe's New Normal

A Familiar Pattern of Islamist Terror

An impromptu memorial on Las Ramblas, the site of the August 17 attack in Barcelona, August 2017. Albert Gea / Reuters

The frequency of Islamic State (ISIS) attacks in Europe remains exceptionally steady, with authorities struggling to respond to the scale of the threat. The incidents in Spain and Finland last week epitomized the trend. In Spain, a group of primarily Moroccan terrorists drove a van into a crowd on La Rambla in Barcelona, replicating recent attacks in France, Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Another van attack terrorized the Spanish town of Cambrils hours later. In total, 15 people were killed and over 120 injured. Meanwhile, in Finland, an 18-year-old asylum seeker named Abderrahman Mechkah, also from Morocco, killed two and injured eight in the city of Turku in a knife attack. Finnish authorities are treating the incident as an act of terrorism.

All of this is well in line with Islamist strategy in Europe in recent years. For one, the countries affected should not come as a major shock. Since the beginning of January 2014, 16 European nations have been targeted. The focus on Europe is, in part, down to ISIS’ own interpretation of Islamic theology. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi warned in July 2014 that the world was divided into two camps—that of Islam and “the camp of kuffar and hypocrisy… the Jews, the crusaders, their allies.” Pulling off a major attack in the United States would be ISIS’ preference, but conditions are more favorable in Europe, which has a more radical and less-integrated Muslim population. In Europe, ISIS has also been able to infiltrate refugee flows heading to the continent and take advantage of European governments not devoting sufficient attention to counterterrorism. 

Spain in particular has long been at risk. The deadliest Islamist attack to hit Europe occurred there in March 2004, when 191 people were killed in the al Qaeda-linked Madrid bombings. That led to a recruitment drive by the government to prevent another attack in the future, and since then there have been many successes. Seven plots have been thwarted since January 2015. Matthew Olsen, former director of the U.S. National Counterterrorism Center, recently

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