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Why the London Terrorist Attacks are Different

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The 9/11 attacks were terrifying for their coordination, complexity and sophistication. People wondered "How could a group of men all over the world coordinate something like this, right under our noses?"

The 9/11 attack's complexity was its most terrifying element, but it was also the attack's greatest vulnerability. Such an elaborate scheme was open to many forms of counter-terrorism measures; from wiretapping to enhanced airport security, the Feds tried to make sure something like 9/11 didn't happen again.


Smaller plots, from shoe bombs to underwear bombs to cargo plane bombs followed, and these plots failed for their complexity. Whether it was during the planning stage or during the execution itself, the plans all unraveled. Extreme pressure on terrorist groups meant that complex schemes were a thing of the past.

But the motives remained, so plots necessarily became simpler.

In 2009, Major Nidal Hasan shot 45 of his coworkers at Ford Hood, a US military base, killing 13 of them. The plan was simple, but guns aren't necessarily a possibility for every would-be terrorist.

Finally, we have the London attack: May 22, 2013, two men literally cut a military cadet's head off in broad daylight in the middle of a busy street with a knife and a meat cleaver.

They were unquestionably terrorists of the same stripe as the Al Qaeda bunch, but far less sophisticated. So unsophisticated, in fact, that their attack was all but impossible to prevent. Anyone with 20 bucks and some spare time could pull this one off, and that's actually what makes it significant. The body count is higher than the shoe bomber, the underwear bomber and the cargo plane plot combined, and the means to do a similar attack are available anywhere.


Preventing the planning and execution of terrorist attacks is treating the symptom, and dramatic, elaborate plans only serve to distract from the cause of these attacks and increase the focus of the symptom. Certainly, keeping explosives out of the hands of would be mass-murderers is a worthwhile exercise in damage control, but it does nothing to treat the cause.

The simplicity of London's attack reveals the truth about terrorism: only the motive needs to exist, the means of attack are irrelevant. So long as terrorists have grievances, real or imagined, against the Western world, the attacks will continue.




Richard is an engineer by day, and a political activist by night, fighting would-be totalitarians and government busybodies everywhere.