Defending our way of life has its price
Barriers on a cycle truck may have averted the latest New York terror attack and such measures may have to be taken until violent extremism is defeated in society
For a country that has suffered the worst terror attacks and where civilian gun violence has taken a terrible toll, the United States had been mercifully spared the latest weapon of choice of terrorists inspired by Islamic State, a truck or van driven into crowds – until Tuesday. Eight people died on a crowded Manhattan cycle track in a crime that sickens, shocks and shakes our assumptions about safe streets.
The discovery of handwritten notes in Arabic near the pickup truck indicating allegiance to IS adds impetus to investigations of possible links between the extremist group and the driver, Uzbekistan migrant Sayfullo Saipov, 29. It seems Saipov had been radicalised since arriving in the US seven years ago.
Five months earlier, a car rammed pedestrians in Times Square, also in New York, killing one. It was not an act of terrorism, but it brought to mind recent attacks involving vehicles in Britain and elsewhere in Europe, including one last year in Nice, France, in which a cargo truck killed scores.
With hindsight, could any other recent events be construed as warnings? Terrorist magazines, including one used by IS, had carried calls for attackers to mow down pedestrians with trucks, continue the attacks with a knife or gun and claim responsibility by shouting and leaving leaflets, all consistent with Saipov’s behaviour. On Monday, a French pro-IS media unit put out a threat for Halloween on an encrypted app and IS-affiliated Twitter accounts.
Such menace can only prompt heightened vigilance. Ultimately, it seems only barriers like those that helped reduce the number of casualties in Times Square, or those erected for Halloween in Lan Kwai Fong, could have averted or mitigated tragedy. If they had obstructed access to the path by the Hudson River, usually bustling with commuters, children from nearby schools, runners and cyclists, perhaps New Yorkers would not now be mourning the worst terrorist attack on their city since September 11. Such measures reflect the impact on our way of life. Until radicalisation and violent extremism are defeated in society as they have been on the battlefield, they may be the price that has to be paid for defending it.