Tighter Western security measures and immigration controls are two likely outcomes of a truck attack in France on July 14, but a closer appraisal of “crisis architecture” may be another response to the unprecedented attack.
“I think that, sadly, we’re at a place where—not just for terrorism reasons but for a wide variety of reasons—we need to think about crisis architecture which can limit the amount of casualties,” said Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and an adjunct assistant professor in Georgetown University’s security studies program. “These attacks are going to get worse before they get better; that’s why it’s important to think about how we mitigate the impact and save lives, knowing that these things are going to continue.”
More than 80 people were killed and more than 200 seriously injured after Tunisian-born Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel drove a 19-ton refrigerated truck through a crowd that had gathered to celebrate Bastille Day on a beachfront promenade in Nice, France.
According to Gartenstein-Ross, what soft-target, mass casualty attacks have in common is either an internal architecture or outdoor public design “that makes it easier for attackers to kill a large number of people.” He cited the assaults on night clubs in Orlando, Fla., and Paris, France, that left scores dead as examples of a design that packed people into tight areas with few opportunities to escape and “not a lot of barriers to a shooter who was trying to move through the area.”
He said, “Similarly, in this case you have an attacker who literally was able to drive for two kilometers hitting people all the way; he did not run into a spike strip; he did not run into a barrier that was designed to slow down or stop a vehicle.”
Despite the fact that al Qaeda had already suggested an interest in a “ramming attack” at the event, “the architecture was not designed to slow down any attacker who was trying to drive and run people down.” Why those measures were not put in place beforehand should be a focal point of the investigation into the attack, he said.
Talk of a response by France against the Islamic State has followed quickly in the aftermath of the attack. What may seem like a mere retaliation could, all the same, be effective in preventing more terror attacks, according to Gartenstein-Ross. Having a caliphate in place, “a quasi-state,” he said, “where attackers can plan and train for future attacks, does make this organization more deadly.”
He added, “There are multiple reasons to want to see this very brutal extremist organization collapse much more quickly.”
He also believes that a more cautious approach to immigration from extremist hotspots such as Syria and Iraq are justified. “Europe’s policies have been extraordinarily irresponsible” so far on the Middle East migration crisis, he argued.
“Clearly, mass migration into Europe is making things more dangerous,” he said. European intelligence and security agencies have been “asleep at the switch” and have to learn to be “nimble” in response to a fast-evolving threat. He suggested that more intelligence and security resources should be devoted to border control, screening migrants passing through the by now well-established routes out of the Middle East and into Europe.
The need for better security strategy, he said, has to be separated from compassion for the people of the region who seek to escape the same ISIS terror. “These are difficult policy steps,” Gartenstein-Ross said, but in the end “in any society one of its first obligations should be to take care of its own citizens.”