Monday, December 19, 2016

Three major terror attacks today. Germany, Turkey and Switzerland.

Police take the suspect in the Berlin attack into custody. NBC News

Three major terror attacks happened today in an absolutely crazy news cycle. In Berlin Germany, a pair in a stolen truck rammed through a Christmas market killing 12 people and wounding 50 more. NBC News. One of the dead was found in the truck, but it unclear if that person was a victim or an accomplice. It is unclear who was responsible for the attack but it has been determined to be deliberate. Witnesses say that the truck was going at least 40 miles per hour and that there was no chance that the attack was an accident. There have been no claims of responsibility reported yet but the attack looks very similar to this year's attack in Nice France, where a truck driver killed 84 people and wounded 200 more. The United States had previously warned US citizens to exercise extreme caution at these outdoor holiday festivals. 

In Turkey, a police officer murdered the Russian Ambassador at an art event while the press looked on with horror. AP. Mevlut Mert Altintas, a Turkish riot cop, shot Ambassador Andrei Karlov in the back. He then went on a rant about Aleppo and Syria before Turkish police arrived and killed him. The assassination comes during heightened tensions between Turkey and Russia, which have improved lately despite disagreements over Syria. Vladimir Putin has vowed an investigation and retribution to anyone who may have helped with the attack.

Police secure the scene at a Mosque in Zurich. EPA.

Finally, in Zurich Switzerland, three people were shot at an Islamic center. Wall Street Journal. Police say a man entered the Islamic center and started shooting, wounding three and then fleeing. A dead body was found nearby but it is unclear if that person was involved in the attack or died under other circumstances. The other three victims were taken to the hospital and the suspect is still at large as of this writing. 

My Comment:
Absolutely crazy news day today and I am not even covering the drama around Donald Trump and the election. Though newsworthy, I didn't feel like covering the electoral college vote because it was always going to end this way. I did find it funny that Clinton had more faithless electors than Donald Trump, but in the end the story will just be a historical footnote. 

These three terror attacks though have larger implications. I'll start with the one in Berlin. Obviously this looks like a copycat attack. The attacker essentially used the same tactic as the ISIS supporter that attacked in Nice this year. Though the death count was much less than the one in France, the attack was essentially the same. My guess is that this was another lone wolf attacker using the same technique. 

A couple of days ago while writing about a failed attack on another Christmas market in Germany, I said that they would make a decent target for terror attacks. Not only are they congested with many people, they also have symbolic importance for ISIS. Killing a bunch of Christians is a major goal for them and by attacking this market they are sending a clear message to Christians everywhere. Even in your most holy of seasons ISIS can strike you and kill you. 

The attack also continues a trend of ISIS using vehicles as a weapon. Nice wasn't the first attack like this and I doubt Berlin will be the last. It is just so simple to pull off and hard to defend against that I expect more attacks like this to continue. These improvisational attacks are a great way for a terrorist that doesn't otherwise have access to weapons or explosives to kill a large number of people. My fear is that this new tactic will not only spread, but could be combined with more traditional attacks like mass shootings and suicide bombings. The Nice attack was a hybrid attack, as the terrorist also had a gun, so there is a precedent for it. But if Berlin proves anything, its that you can get a double digit death count just with a truck. 

The assassination in Ankara, Turkey was just insane. The attack obviously has some political and international consequences but before I get into that I have to say that this attack will live on in history for years and years. Why? Because it happened in front of the press and to their great credit the camera and photo people on site kept doing their jobs. It's not often I praise the press, but when they put their lives on the line I have to give credit where credit is due. Given that these were reporters covering a minor story about an art show, it's impressive that they did so well. 

The images of that attack will live on for years. A well dressed assassin shooting and killing a high ranking political official and then going on a rant made for amazing photography and video. It's probably morbid to put it into these terms, but the whole thing looked like something out of a Hollywood movie. The attack was one of those media moments that will be talked about for years... 

As for the attack itself, it is unclear if the attacker's motivations were due to Islamic extremism or not. Obviously a guy screaming "Allah Akbar" tends to indicate terrorism, but that doesn't mean that this guy had any links to any particular terrorist group. Though it is possible that he was just a lone activist, I am guessing that he probably did have a link to a terrorist organization. The question now is if it was ISIS or someone else. 

If it was ISIS then I think I deserve partial credit for predicting it. I said last year around this time that ISIS would try to murder a world leader. Though an ambassador probably doesn't count as a world leader, it's obviously an indication that ISIS is willing to assassinate important politicians outside of their main areas of operations, if indeed they are the ones responsible for the attack. 

The political ramifications of this are rather obvious. Tensions between Turkey and Russia are high due to Syria and this guy just killed Ambassador Karlov because of Syria. The attack seems to be an obvious attempt to ratchet up tensions at a time that relations between Turkey and Russia have been improving. Russia seems to understand this and Putin went out of his way to not blame Turkey for the attack. Hopefully calmer heads will continue to prevail. 

The last attack is a bit of a mystery to me and has been largely overshadowed by the other attacks and news. Since the attack was at an Islamic center or Mosque (I've seen it described both ways), it seems rather unlikely that this was an attack committed by ISIS or another terror group. Unlikely, but not impossible because it could have been a Shia mosque or other non-Sunni group or even a Sunni one that didn't pass the purity test for ISIS. 

The other possibility is that it was a right wing attack against the Muslims. If true that means that the cycle of revenge has begun. And honestly after the massive number of terror attacks in Europe I am surprised that it has taken this long for people to take revenge. You can only push people so far before they start to fight back, and though I don't condone terrorism from any source, I certainly understand why people might want to do so. 

No matter what the circumstances, it seems to me that all of Europe, Turkey technically included, is in a state of civil war right now, even if nobody else will admit it. We are seeing low scale improvised attacks and targeted assassinations. And if the attack in Zurich is an actual revenge attack, then the battle is joined. If I am right then it is a dire sign of things to come... 

Finally, I have to say that the news cycle was exhausting today. I followed all three stories as they happened along with following the Donald Trump/electoral college story. If you are interested I tweeted about it as it happens so if you are interested you can see my twitter account here. Given how crazy things were today, if things calm down tomorrow I might just skip a post. I am technically on vacation after all...  

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