We must find out whether these attacks were planned at home or abroad
Enough is enough, declares the Prime Minister. Three terrorist attacks in three months – but what happens now? More of the same, or a radically new approach to the way we face the terrorist challenge? Donald Trump promised us a new, robust and above all more effective way of dealing with terrorism, but just what that means in practice is still not apparent.
There are certain things we do not know with regard to the recent attacks, though the security services may well be close to getting answers for us. All of these questions are important, and the answers will make a difference to how we deal with terror.
Firstly, were these three attacks, and the other attacks that were disrupted in time, planned in this country? Or were they directed from aboard? Or was it simply that local actors were inspired by IS but without having any contact with IS? Or were they in touch with people who had been with IS in Syria and Iraq, and who had come back from there in order to stir up trouble in the UK?
Whatever the answer to that question, at the very least, the attacks in Manchester and London were claimed for the Caliphate by IS, and were presumably inspired by it, even if the perpetrators had no more contact with Raqqa than you or I. The terrorism was home-grown, but clearly with an international dimension, the impact of which is hard to gauge. But that international dimension was surely there.
If the British government were to undertake a land war against the Caliphate, that is, send troops to obliterate or liberate Raqqa, would that make any difference? Would people continue to be inspired by a Caliphate that had been seen to fail?
But, given recent history, is our government or any other government in the West ever likely to commit ground troops to a conflict in the Middle East again? Far more likely is the continued use of proxies. But why aren’t our proxies doing better in their war against IS? Why – and this is perhaps the most frustrating question of all – why is Raqqa still in the hands of IS? Raqqa has been a law unto itself for over four years!
Whichever way you look at that, it is a huge failure on the West’s part, and a massive encouragement to all those who support the Caliphate. To capture Raqqa would be a huge propaganda coup in a war that is full of propaganda. So why hasn’t it happened?
Meanwhile, something may have happened with regard to the international dimension to the terrorist problem. Four Arab countries – Egypt, the UAE, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia – have cut off diplomatic relations with Qatar, accusing Qatar of being a patron and financier of Islamic terrorism.
This may be significant, in that it could be the beginning of what Donald Trump called for when he visited Riyadh – the driving out of terrorists from their host countries. If this means the beginning of the end of state sponsorship for terror, then it might be the light at the end of the tunnel.
But for as long as there are countries in the world that support Islamist ideology, and as long as there is a blank space on the map that the self-proclaimed Caliphate calls its own, the longer we will all have to wait for a solution to the challenge of terrorism.