Why stopping terror attacks against soft targets is so hard


And that makes them make some very difficult choices. and elsewhere. So, we considered this to be kind of what to expect in the U.K., was not in mainland Europe. A lot of this is going to come down to not just intelligence and defense, but engagement in these communities where we do have potential hot spots for radicalization. So they are looking — they go out looking for a version that speaks to them, not culturally infused, say, in Libya or Pakistan or Bangladesh, one that speaks to them, one that talks about geopolitics, one that involves their day-to-day experiences. coming from pretty much a three-mile radius. The volume of threats that they have to face is making their jobs very difficult, and they simply can’t stay on an individual target indefinitely. I suppose the main surprise is the scale of it. And that pattern is quite different from what we saw in the late 2000s from al-Qaida. Second, the operational approach of ISIS is so very different. It speaks to their day-to-day experiences. Bush and Obama administrations. MICHAEL LEITER: To some extent, very regrettably, they are. You mentioned he was a British citizen. What lures him into this ideology? How does this happen, that a British citizen, even he’s from Libyan descent, grows up there eating fish and chips like everybody else? That means it had been severe for so long. As an investigator, you really don’t want to release information until you have a purpose in doing so. called Moss Side. MICHAEL LEITER: Thank you, Hari. This kind of thing has been coming for some time. That is actually very near a real hub of radicalization in the U.K. For that, I’m joined by Michael Leiter. They particularly don’t relate to their — the version of Islam their parents ascribe to. He was the director of the National Counterterrorism Center from 2007 to 2011 during both the George W. It seems to have escalated from that to this. HARI SREENIVASAN: Well, Michael Leiter, as Alexander just mentioned, just two months ago, there was a stabbing attack that we all witnessed — or the aftermath that we witnessed on TV. Is there a pattern here? He’s the son — he’s a second-generation British. The fact that it’s happened, not at all, because, unfortunately, we have been making arrests in the U.K. It’s essentially an area, a sort of deprived area, a lot of gang activity. And, unfortunately, jihadist sort of ideology and the jihadist version of Islam can sometimes look like the version these guys are looking for. But as we saw in this attack, as we saw in the attack in Turkey at the airport, as we saw in Brussels, the terrorists know where we have security measures, whether that’s airport screening or metal detectors entering the stadium. Can’t stop them all. Everyone has unique experiences that leads them to this kind of action, but there are some overarching issues. And you can push the security perimeters out some, but, ultimately, we live in open democratic societies that are not constantly policed. ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS: Thank you. And Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, research director of the Program on Extremism at the George Washington University. ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS: Well, the area that it appears the attacker, Abedi, came from is part of Southern Manchester. Are these sort of attacks almost indefensible? Are you surprised by this? We also had the Westminster attack just recently. And what we have seen is a sort of morphing of sort of a gang culture into a jihadist culture, at least a fusing of those two cultures. So, it’s unfortunate that information was disclosed, but, unfortunately, in this era of 24-hour news, keeping these investigations classified is obviously a challenge on both sides of the Atlantic. HARI SREENIVASAN: And, Alexander, I want to ask you about that engagement in communities. And, unfortunately, sometimes, those choices end up not being the right ones. Is that significant? They don’t relate to their parents. And, third, the volume is simply overwhelming for security services, whether it’s the MI5 in the U.K. or the FBI here in the United States. How did it get to be a hotbed for terrorist recruitment? And, often, defenses can be used to at least minimize what sort of casualties we have. And I would really identify three significant changes for ISIS that are manifesting themselves again in all of Western Europe and the U.K. But, unfortunately, even in the attacks around in Paris, we saw one of the attacks were outside a football stadium. The British intelligence agencies seem a little concerned that the name of the bomber was leaked by U.S. The post Why stopping terror attacks against soft targets is so hard appeared first on PBS NewsHour. citizens would probably say the football club. But, unfortunately, the scale is, I think, the surprise. ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS: Well, one of the sort of cliches, but it is largely true, about that question — or the answer to that question is that every path to radicalization is unique. HARI SREENIVASAN: Michael Leiter, today, the prime minister escalated the threat level from severe to critical. And so, essentially, we have actually seen about 16 British individuals involved in some form of terrorist activity for I.S. Watch Video | Listen to the AudioHARI SREENIVASAN: As Manchester mourns and British military steps in to help with security, we turn now to what the attack says about the capabilities of terrorist groups. Rather than large-scale attacks, they are actively pursuing and pushing people to stay where they are and attack in their homes. So, in that sense, there will always be these soft targets, and security can only move us so far. MICHAEL LEITER: Well, I think there is clearly a pattern for ISIS throughout Western Europe. HARI SREENIVASAN: Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, if you had to do a word association game with the word Manchester, most U.S. ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS, George Washington University: Unfortunately not. for a long, long time, stopping plots like this repeatedly. HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, Michael Leiter, thank you both. The access to sort of criminal networks wasn’t quite as easy as it was in mainland Europe. And that is the most common target for radicalizers, because — and recruiters, because these guys, generally, they’re growing up in Britain. Michael Leiter, I want to start with you. Counterterrorism officials can detect and disrupt some plots. They have a different culture to their parents. officials hours before British authorities made that public. HARI SREENIVASAN: Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens, you have studied jihadist groups in the U.K. MICHAEL LEITER, Former Director, National Counterterrorism Center: I think it is, Hari. First, there’s a pace and scale of radicalization that we really have not seen before, largely through the effective use of the Internet. So, whether or not this is relevant to the current investigation into Abedi is not yet clear, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw that he was somehow influenced by that wider network. Only four or five were people killed there. And as the British were clearly investigating other elements of this attack, or at least trying to determine whether there were additional people involved or potential follow-on attacks, it makes good sense that those investigators might want to keep that name behind the green curtain until they found use in disclosing it. And it’s not all that difficult to adjust your tactics, so you can still find large collections of individuals just outside the security perimeters.