We are now a week separated from the lone-wolf attack outside London’s Parliament that resulted in five deaths — including the perpetrator — dozens of injuries and a lockdown of Westminster Bridge and the Parliament buildings.
At 2:20 p.m. last Wednesday afternoon, a man drove his car across Westminster Bridge, mounted the curb at 76 mph and began hitting pedestrians haphazardly. After crashing his car on the other side of the bridge, the assailant exited the vehicle armed with a knife, stabbed and killed Officer Keith Palmer and was shot dead by police.
The attack lasted 82 seconds.
As heart-breaking as this event is, I must applaud London’s police force, intelligence services and the community at large. The response to this sort of attack in such a prominent location has been extensively strategized and rehearsed, as reflected by the rapid first responders, clear and accurate information distributed to the public and a confident attitude of resilience.
Lives were lost, but as we look back with seven days of hindsight, London could not have asked for a more effective response. This sort of widespread, boots-on-the-ground security is the only true way to combat lone-wolf terrorism.
Terrorists always look for the path of least resistance. This is why they fill post-conflict vacuums in Afghanistan and Iran, and it is also why we have seen an increase in unsophisticated attacks in Europe — trucks in Nice and Berlin, and cars and knives in London. Surveillance simply cannot predict and prevent such simple attacks.
The more sophisticated and preplanned the attack, the more likely security services can detect and avert it. And they do. In the UK alone, there are an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 “violent Islamist” extremists leading to hundreds of active counterterrorism investigations at any given time. In all honesty, the fact that a lone-wolf operation is the only successful attack in years is remarkable.
The elasticity with which the police were able to absorb the shock of last week’s attack, contain the danger and then manage simultaneous raids across the country on known suspects — without causing substantial panic or disrupting daily life — is noteworthy as well.
The British and global intelligence community can and are using this attack as an opportunity to learn more about the strategies of lone-wolf attackers and how they can slip through the cracks.
“He was not part of our current intelligence picture,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said Thursday morning to a reconvened Parliament. Though not part of the “current picture,” the attacker had been investigated by MI5 and was known for his links to violent extremism.
The intelligence community believes it is possible that the attacker had intentionally gone “dormant” in his explicit extremist activities so as to reduce his visibility and allay suspicion.
If this was indeed the assailant’s strategy, then it is extremely likely that other would-be attackers will attempt the same thing. Currently, the intelligence community has no way of detecting and combating this tactic, but at least it is now on their radar.
All in all, from my amateur perspective, it seems London did absolutely everything it could to staunch this attack. The attacker was born in England — showing that the United Kingdom’s immigration policy has nothing to do with it, despite what some may say.
This horrendous tragedy is the sole responsibility of the attacker, who I will not validate by naming. I will, however, honor and name those who worked to hold the city together.
Dr. Jeeves Wijesuriya, Dr. Tony Joy and nurse Anna Crossley were passersby who ran off the street to assist. Foreign Officer Minister Tobias Ellwood personally attempted to resuscitate Officer Palmer as he was vacating Parliament. Police and medical professionals kept the great city calm and patrolled fairly and with care. Civilians and tourists gathered to support the victims and heroes, as well as to underline their pledge to open borders.
The unfortunate truth is that we cannot fully control evil, especially when it is hidden in an individual’s heart. Intelligence and surveillance are overwhelmingly successful at keeping us safe 99 percent of the time, but the nature of the beast is that evil will always find a way.
That is why we must stand to fight it. First responders and the security services do a wonderful job, but there are simply some things they cannot do alone. Be like Wijesuriya, Joy, Crossley and Ellwood — citizens on the street who saw an evil and ran forward to help.