Leader comment: Defiance is only defence against the unthinkable

The massacre in Nice has shown again there are some attacks we cannot prepare for, so we must let everyday life go on

People visit the scene and lay tributes to the victims of a suspected terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France. Picture: Getty
People visit the scene and lay tributes to the victims of a suspected terror attack on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice, France. Picture: Getty

For the people of France, another brutal attack to endure. Hard to believe, but this is the most sickening and chilling yet. That it was perpetrated using a vehicle that is a familiar sight to all, countless being on our roads, makes it more shocking; to see it turned in to a weapon.

A weapon that is then used on a national holiday, where crowds of unsuspecting families are enjoying Bastille Day celebrations, a weapon aimed indiscriminately at crowds. A weapon of terror, without a doubt.

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And again France is left reeling, and politicians will struggle to give fearful citizens reassurances that all is being done to ensure their safety. And those fearful citizens will not be confined to France. We are all targets.

But can we defend ourselves against attacks like these? Nice has a reputation as a safe city, but as French senator Nathalie Goulet says, it is impossible “to put a policeman behind everybody”.

There are effective measures that can be taken to defend against attacks from vehicles by the positioning of special barriers capable of withstanding direct impacts, stopping a truck from reaching its target. The Holyrood parliament in Edinburgh is surrounded by bollards and water-filled pools, which as well as looking attractive are designed to provide extra protection.

But those defences are only able to protect certain buildings. This was an attack on crowds, so perhaps city planners need to look at public squares and other places to see if they can protect places where people commonly gather. But the truth is it will be impossible to protect against every such attack.

In this instance, the suspected killer was known to police, but there was nothing in his record to suggest this was going to happen, and he was not on any watch list of radicalised young men. It was impossible to track or trace weapons that might be going to be used in this attack, because the weapon was hired from a truck rental depot. So it did not matter how good the intelligence agencies were, or how many agencies were sharing information – there was no intelligence to be gathered to warn of this outrage.

It is believed that the attacker was responding to an audio message broadcast in 2014, in which a spokesman for Islamic State urged jihadists to go on to the streets and kill, saying “If you can’t detonate a bomb or fire a shot, manage by yourself… run them over with your car.” According to one witness, the driver of the lorry, as he swerved back and forth to cause maximum death and injury, looked like he was “having fun”.

One idea, abhorrent though it is, is to change our behaviour to make such attacks less
atractive. Marseille has subsequently cancelled its fireworks display, but does that mean that we have stop attending concerts, sporting events and the like? Even if we did, there are other places where high concentrations of people would serve as targets.

And that would be giving in. The greatest action we can effectively take is to stand united in condemnation of such attacks and in defiance of those who perpetrate them.