Barcelona Attacks: Edinburgh Next?

Barcelona Attacks: Edinburgh Next?

by Stuart Crawford
article from Saturday 19, August, 2017

ANOTHER WEEK, another terrorist outrage in a European city. This time Barcelona (and nearby Cambrils) joined Nice, Paris, Berlin, Stockholm and London (three times) in the list of recent targets for ISIS’ new terrorism strategy. This so-called “low tech” terrorism, involving driving vehicles at high speed and indiscriminately into crowds of shoppers and tourists causing multiple casualties, has brought a new threat to our society. 

It’s a threat which police and security services find particularly difficult to counter. The pattern is that vans or cars are hired, often at short notice, by individuals who then drive them into innocent members of the public with no warning. In some cases, the perpetrators then dismount and attack at random using knives and guns. It requires little more than a driving licence and seems to be almost totally unpredictable.

There’s a limited amount the security services can do about it. As ever, intelligence is the best defence against these attacks, but sometimes the attackers, particularly the “lone wolf” ones, are not on police radars. No doubt similar events have been foiled, but if individuals have no previous record it’s hard to identify them.

Physical barriers, like those installed outside the Scottish parliament building, for example, or on various London bridges, can help. But short of placing these on every main public thoroughfare in Europe they are only of limited deterrence.

Which brings me to the major question thath needs to be asked; could this happen in Scotland?

Glasgow Airport attack aside, Scotland has managed to avoid the worst excesses of terrorism in the past. Even the airport attack was the result of the failure of a London plan to plant bombs there. Whether this is because our security services up here are particularly adept, successful or lucky I don’t know.

There is a school of thought that argues that the longer Scotland goes without terrorist activity the less likely it will happen at all. I am of the opposite view; that the longer we go without a major incident the more likely we are to have one in the future. But I can’t prove it scientifically, so it’s just a hunch.  What I do know is that terrorists tend to try and strike where they’re least expected, or where security precautions are seen to be relaxed.

Both the major Scottish cities I am most familiar with, Glasgow and Edinburgh, would seem to be wide open to low tech terrorist attack. In Glasgow, Scotland’s shopping capital, the pedestrianised Buchanan Street shares some similarities with Barcelona’s Las Ramblas. It is wide, scattered with shops and eateries throughout its length, and has open vehicle access to allow deliveries. It also teems with people every weekend.

Edinburgh is even more at risk during Festival time, when it’s difficult at times to walk along Princes Street on account of the crowds. Again, with its broad pavements and vehicular access, it’s hardly a difficult target for those who seek to do us harm. Elsewhere in the capital I know temporary vehicle barriers have been installed which may well put of potential attackers, but the scale of the problem means they can’t be everywhere.

What can we do about it? Well, only so much. “Be vigilant” is not exactly a helpful exhortation, but “be aware” might be. We can’t be complacent and just trust it won’t happen to us. These days I find myself warning my children to keep their wits about them when they’re out and about. At a government level, the installation of permanent anti-vehicle barriers would seem to make some sense, but would be a costly and time-consuming exercise. We have them already outside the Scottish parliament and we might have to get used to seeing them elsewhere. As for the cost, we might just have to take the hit.

I should say that I have great faith in Scotland’s police and security services, who I am sure are expending much energy in addressing the threat. But they cannot be omniscient and omnipresent, and they need the public’s help in their enormous task

To return to the question; Edinburgh next?  Well, I hope not – I hope not ever – but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility. We all need to take responsibility for our own, our fellow citizens, and our visitors’ safety and welfare.  Be nosy, be questioning, and alert the police to anything even mildly suspicious.

We can defeat these cowards masquerading as jihadists, but it will take a big effort from all of us to do so.


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