Vehicle attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils marked the return of Islamic State (ISIS) terrorism to the heart of Europe even as the group is in retreat in Iraq and Syria following the liberation of Mosul.
An ISIS statement claimed that the Barcelona attack, which killed at least 14 people, was carried out by “one of the soldiers of the Islamic State” — language that the group uses to include those radicalised by ISIS abroad but with no direct ties to the group. One woman died from injuries sustained in the Cambrils incident.
Spain is a junior partner in the Western anti-ISIS coalition, providing logistical aid and training to Iraqi forces.
Low-tech vehicles have become a major component of ISIS attacks in the West. Since the Nice, France, attack with a cargo truck on July 14, 2016, more than 120 people have been killed in similar attacks in major European cities.
“The use of a vehicle to conduct the attack has become standard practice among Islamist militants in Europe, with similar tactics used in attacks in Nice, Berlin, Paris and London over the past year,” said Otso Iho, a senior analyst at Jane’s Terrorism and Insurgency Centre.
Many Muslims in Europe have expressed concern about a rise in anti-Muslim sentiment following terrorist attacks. Statistics gathered after similar attacks indicate a spike in Islamophobic incidents. Spanish Muslim community groups have expressed solidarity and called for calm in the aftermath of this week’s terrorism incidents.
A few weeks after the London Bridge attack, which bore many similarities to the Cambrils incident, including the attackers wearing fake suicide vests, an anti-Muslim vehicle attack outside London’s Finsbury Park mosque resulted in one death.
Mahmud el-Shafey is an Arab Weekly correspondent in London.