Public and crowded spaces, the ideal target

The so-called "soft targets" are now preferred by terrorists, since they are more difficult to predict
Photo: EFE
27/05/2017
17:22
Víctor Sancho / Corresponsal
Washington
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Most of the previous terrorist attacks in Western countries have something in common: they have occurred in public places with minimal infrastructure and large gatherings of people.

The offensives to places with little or null security have become common objectives. They are called “'soft targets.' Any gathering is a potential objective.” sais to EL UNIVERSAL Kenneth Gray, an expert in Criminal Justice by the University of New Heaven.

The Islamic State has recommended through its magazine Inspire, that those who are willing to commit an aggression “use common and unconventional items like knives, cars, and trucks,” reminded Gray.

The “soft targets” are not a novelty nor a tendency of the past years. “They are the logical evolution of the terror tactics (…), an extension of what has been the terrorist handbook,” assured to this daily Karen Greenberg, director of the National Security Center of the University of Fordham.

The methods have been simplified recently and, at the same time, they have become even more unpredictable.

“When a tactic is successful, we see how it is replicated and imitated,” states Gray.

For David Schanzer, professor at the University of Duke and director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, the “turn to soft targets is really a sign of weakness from part of terrorist organizations.”

Gray contributes with another fact: with these aggressions “it is not necessary to provide funds, nor training, nor technical assistance.”

Not only that, “they also expose the cowardice and immorality of the terrorists; in the long run, it will turn against them, as societies and governments act in an appropriate form,” predicts Schanzer.

The improvement of security and intelligence services have made terrorists decline their preferences of attacking centers of power and relevant facilities, like military bases or airports, and thus change their strategies, since “they know that their chances of success are low” against this kind of targets.

Just as Gray says, their goal is “to create terror by killing and injuring the maximum number of people possible.” So selecting public places has a certain logic, considering the necessity of guaranteeing a good chance of success.

Schanzer elaborates, their “attraction for the fear they induce in civilians" is also a factor to be taken into account. According to the expert, the tactic “works” for the time being, for it manages to attract attention and frighten people.

“The idea of agitating civilians wherever they go in their daily life, malls, stadiums, clubs, etc., reinforce their main objective,” adds Greenberg.

The best formula, according to analysts, is to work in communities at a local level. After all, the closest people are the ones who can detect if an individual is being radicalized and has a tendency to violence. Acting at an early stage, before the person has entered an attacking phase, is essential.

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