Tactical Review: Shock Value

“What is the world coming to?”
“Who could target teens and children?”
“What sort of person would do this?”

These questions littered social media in the wake of the terror attack in Manchester, England. As this was an attack by an ISIS militant and extremist, the answer was very simple.

The people who could do such a thing are the types who see it as part of a larger strategy. Who fully accept that they may be killed in the process, and indeed see that as an end in itself.

This week, we tackle both events. As usual, we will take a clinical approach to both, focusing on tactics and motives.

1.) Suspects. Shortly after the Manchester attack, Britian’s terror alert system was raised to its highest level, indicating the belief that additional attacks were imminent.

The suspect had traveled to Libya for three weeks, only being in the UK for a few days before executing the attack, according to US officials. Essentially, the theory is that the suspect was radicalized in Libya, in order to carry out attacks in England. This is in-line with recent developments suggesting that the UK government was warned about British extremists returning home.” As we have discussed previously, the primary ISIS tactic, regardless of how the attack is perpetrated, is to radicalize someone, whether by propaganda online or directly in person. This presents a number of challenges for most Western societies, and will (and has) pushed immigration to the forefront in the UK’s coming election, as well as reheating the discussion in the United States. (The UK General Election is still slated for June 8.)

It is also worth noting that, while the suspect may have perpetrated the attack alone, he did not work towards it alone. Police in Britain have made what they call “significant arrests” in locating a network that surrounded the suspect and helped him acquire the materials needed for the attack. The network could be fairly large, as recent government reports have suggested upwards of 23,000 jihadists live in Britain.

2.) Location/Victims. The goal of terrorism is to shock and horrify a society; to completely offend every last one of its values and to engage in violent behavior against extremely vulnerable parts of that society. Ariana Grande is seen as a pop star popular with younger audiences (a “favourite of pre-teens” as one source put it), and as such many teens and younger were in the audience when the attack occurred.

Previous attacks throughout Europe have included the attack on Parliament, the Nice bombings, and the Charlie Hebdo shooting in 2015.

None of which explicitly targeted children and teenagers as this one did. This, as Stratfor’s Fred Burton points out, represents a clear shift in strategy for the terrorist group.

Described at it’s most basic level, the event was a night of entertainment for younger people and (presumably) their families. The attack sent the double-message of making otherwise innocent events like that one a nightmare and showing no compunction against killing teens and children.

And, as there is clearly a network of conspirators, both facts were accepted as necessary for people who saw it as part of a broader strategy. We view it as shocking, we see it as a depraved act and the product of madness.

They see it as a key tactic in terrifying a society and making it appear very, very vulnerable. The definition of “terrorism.”

It’s also worth noting something else in terms of the location; multiple reports suggest that the security at the venue did not check bags, and that this had been a concern weeks in advance.

3.) Final thoughts.. The purpose of this Review is to demonstrate that we’re dealing with people who hold no regard for their life or anyone else’s, and who seek to exploit as many holes in a free society’s laws as they can to achieve their own ends.

It is also to demonstrate that they are not monolithic. There is a network, there are motives, and there are ways to deal with terrorism. Already we’ve seen calls for the British people to gain the right to self-defense that we have in the US.

Shock, horror, and anger are exactly the reactions ISIS is looking for. While there are certainly reasons for such emotion in the wake of the attack, there is also a much stronger avenue against such attacks. By analyzing the weakpoints exploited by the suspects, their tactics, their motives, and in general their strategy; we can see a pattern forming and devise ways to counter the threat.

But, in order to do that, we must remember to do two things above all else: stop thinking of ISIS as a monolithic, almost ethereal entity, and continue to demonstrate strength in the face of a threat that has the explicit purpose of shattering us.

And as always…

Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.

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