(RIEAS Senior Analyst)
Yet one more impressive terrorist attack shook Athens today. The target this time was a court building, and, although the attack claimed no victims, the damage was widespread and publicly very visible, sufficient to create the terrorising effect that the perpetrators intended and to serve as a warning of possible future terrorist capabilities.An act of defiance after the recent clamp-down by the Police in clamping down specific terrorist organisations? One more episode in a series of rising terrorist activity? Whatever the answer, the attacks are proliferating, the methods are evolving -as it is to be expected-, the capacities are increasing, as well as the destruction and lethality potential of the perpetrators.
What is perhaps more worrisome is the purely tactical and operational outlook that the authorities seem to be primarily -if not only- following. The necessity of the tactical and operational analysis of the attacks cannot be questioned. Whether it can be sufficient though in fighting such an evolving phenomenon is strongly debatable.
Even in the best case scenario, with all the new tactical information provided by each attack pointing to one coherent picture, a picture that would allow the authorities to make critical arrests, the phenomenon of recent terrorism resurgence, is unlikely to be over. Despite the recent important victories of the Greek Police, the impressive, wartime-resembling arsenals they discovered, the arrests they have made and, most importantly, the gradual shift of the public impression that terrorists are bound to remain untouchable, the terrorist phenomenon seems to be further evolving rather than receding.
The insinuation by the authorities that the terrorist scene in Greece is an amalgam of interacting groups, along with the recently apparent links to other groups, outside Greece, further highlights this point. Since the motivation and capabilities to commit violent acts of terrorism are not restricted to members of an exclusive group, but on the contrary they transcend groups of different proclaimed identities, should have already raised crucial strategic questions.
What seems to be repeatedly missing from the public debate and the information made available by the authorities, is any mentioning of sympathisers. Terrorist organisations rarely operate in a vacuum. They are usually the tip of an iceberg of sympathisers. Sympathisers that may be sharing a common goal, ideology, some kind of mobilising factor.
Unless such factor(s) are eliminated or at least delegitimised as factors for terrorist or violent mobilisation, any progress in the fight against terrorism, no matter how praiseworthy, will be limited to cutting one head of a Hydra, and assuming -falsely- that no other will appear.
Although the reasons of radicalisation and violent mobilisation go beyond the scope of this short commentary, the proliferation of attacks, and the links to international terrorist activity as well, prove beyond doubt the existence of such active radicalisation processes and their significant potential for violence and terrorist acts.
Undermining and delegitimising such processes, and in this way rendering a strategic blow to the future of terrorist activity, requires a very different set of tools and strategy. Primarily it requires state authorities willing to work on prevention, strategic communications and public diplomacy.
It needs staff trained and skilled on strategic -and not only tactical or operational- analysis, on strategic and public communication, on public intelligence etc. And before anything else, it needs a new understanding of security culture, of the role security authorities are supposed to play and political leaderships and hierarchies with a vision and resolution to implement such radical changes.
Quite a tall order... Until then, enjoy the fireworks. Even with some hard-gained intermissions.