A suspected terrorist hires a van, and ploughs it into tourists on a popular thoroughfare, with devastating effect. If the early details available from yesterday’s attack in Barcelona are accurate, then the incident follows a pattern with which we are all too familiar. It’s the sixth use of a vehicle in a deadly attack in the last six months.
The famous Las Ramblas boulevard is possibly one of the softest targets in Europe when faced by such a threat, but it doesn’t take much of a stretch of the imagination to identify similar circumstances closer to home.
Once more, our politicians condemn the attack, and once more they state that the terrorists will not win. They may well be right, but we have no reason to believe that we will not be shocked by a further attack before much longer. Sadly, there will be more casualties before this threat is contained, if that is in fact possible.
Spain is no stranger to terror attacks, but there has always been the option of talking with Basque group ETA. This new enemy cannot be negotiated with; we barely know who the enemy is, never mind where to find them.
The nature of these vehicle attacks make them virtually impossible to defend ourselves against, although if there is any consolation, it is that terrorists appear – at the moment – to be unable to inflict the number of casualties they would want to wipe out. While the vehicle attack is effective and devastating, its scope tends to be relatively limited compared to the kind of carnage alternative methods can achieve.
Our only option is to continue to put in place preventative measures in places where we think the threat is greatest, even though we know that there are too many potential targets to defend effectively. Every city has crowded streets that are shared with traffic.
For some, the anti-terror barriers put up in Edinburgh this month to protect festival crowds were an intrusion – some would even suggest they are futile – and a curtailment on the sense of freedom that is enjoyed in the city at this time of year. The reality is, however, that more of these intrusions may be required in the future, whether we like it or not.