The terrible terror attack in Nice last night may have been inspired by recent Islamic State messages calling on Muslims to use vehicles to massacre Westerners in their home cities.
Certainly the terror group’s supporters were quick to use social media to claim the atrocity as their own.
Islamic State first issued the call to use vehicles as weapons as long ago as 2014, after security services succeeded in disrupting plots organised in Syria and aimed at the West.
Then the group’s spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani issued a message urging followers to use whatever means at hand to carry out attacks against the “infidel”, including “running him over with your car”.
A few weeks before the start of Muslim holy month of Ramadan, al-Adnani stepped up his call to action.
In May he said: “Ramadan, the month of conquest and jihad. Get prepared, be ready… to make it a month of calamity everywhere for the non-believers… especially for the fighters and supporters of the caliphate in Europe and America”, said the message, suggesting attacks on military and civilian targets.
The terrible consequences of self-motivated terrorism have wreaked carnage and panic across the West since al-Adnani began directly appealing to Europe’s radicalised youth.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) July 15, 2016
The first IS-inspired terror attack against France, at the offices of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, had no tangible links to Syria and is regarded as a self-radicalised event.
Many of the later atrocities have followed a similar pattern.
Security services have long feared this kind of unpredictable, self-starting terror, which is almost impossible to detect or prevent.
By targeting gatherings of locals and tourists, such as those attending the Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, the perpetrator has followed al Adnani’s instructions to the letter.
The shock and horror of such an attack has disproportionate impact on the civilian population.
It makes local people think twice before attending organised events and deters tourists from visiting Europe. It also turns communities against one another.
France’s reaction has been to extend its period of civil emergency and increase the number of police and soldiers on the streets. But as the Paris Bataclan terror attack in November worryingly demonstrated, this is no real answer to the threat France now confronts.
Nice, like Paris, has many poorer suburbs populated by alienated Arab youth who feel their interests are better represented outside of France.
If it is true that the suspect of the Nice attack is a Tunisian-born migrant, then the Muslim communities of southern France can expect little in the way of sympathy of understanding from the counter-terrorism agencies that the French president has ordered to join the “war” against home-grown terrorists.
Its efforts might be better deployed in improving its intelligence-gathering operations which have to date been woefully inadequate.
This can only be done by first winning the trust of the Arab communities who hold the key to defeating the extremists.
— tagesschau (@tagesschau) July 14, 2016
Robert Verkaik is the author of Jihadi John: The Making of a Terrorist published by Oneworld