Have you ever done an internet search for ‘terrorist attacks since 9/11? I suspect not. But if you did, as I have to write this piece, you’d be astounded at the number. Dependent upon how you look at them, there have been 25-30 major terrorist attacks in the last 15 years, attributable to Islamic extremism.
September 11th 2001 is of course the most famous and marks a major turning point in modern history and sparked the ‘War on Terror’. The final death toll comes up at 2,996 with thousands more injured and many more affected by the horrific attacks on the World Trade Centre, the Pentagon and a fourth plane crash in Pennsylvania. It is by far the most fatal terrorist attack the West has seen in many years and led to the 10 year man-hunt for Osama bin Laden.
I was a mere 5 years old at the time but I remember being brought home from school and put in front of the TV, watching the news as the aftermath unfolded. It was a profound event that shook the world and reverberates throughout history to this day. For the millions affected it was a dark day, maybe even the darkest; for bin Laden and Al Qaeda, it was a triumph.
It profoundly affected the majority of the Western world and cannot be forgotten. Less than a month after the events of 9/11, the US invaded Afghanistan in order to root out Al Qaeda and then two years later, in March 2003, they invaded Iraq to depose President Saddam Hussein. These two conflicts have turned out to be some of the longest running in US military history, and they are arguably not over yet. Thousands of American soldiers have been killed and injured in these ‘Wars on Terror’. US military defence budgets have sky-rocketed along with increases in border control, surveillance powers and monitoring of citizens through legislation like the Patriot Act, October 2001.
But the violence and devastation has not stopped there. 202 people died in a car bomb in Bali in October 2002; 191 died in co-ordinated commuter train attacks in Madrid, March 2004; 52 lost their lives in rush-hour attacks to transport in London, 7th July 2005; 166 died in attacks on Mumbai, November 2008; 4 people died in a museum killing in Brussels, May 2014; in December 2014, a Taliban attack on a military-run school in Pakistan killed 148 people, mostly children; the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015 in Paris left 17 dead; 150 people died in a siege on a university campus in Kenya in April 2015; 38 people died in a lone gunman attack on Tunisia in June 2015; in Ankara, Turkey 95 people died in twin suicide bombings in October 2015; November 2015 saw 43 people killed in Beirut and 137 killed in a series of co-ordinated attacks in Paris; and most recently 3 attacks in Belgium in March 2016 left 35 people dead.
These are, of course, only a fraction of the number of actual terrorist attacks linked to Islamic extremism in recent years and I have only suggested the most famous ones. But as you can see, there are seldom areas left that haven’t been hit at least once by terrorism. The determination is not let this senseless violence bring us down, in fact it has brought many together in co-ordinated air-strikes in Iraq and Syria, coalition forces in the same regions and international intelligence sharing.
But are we really on the way to stopping this trend?
Trillions are spent every year on surveillance, security and anti-terrorist methods. But the attacks continue and increase in volume and violence. Previously terrorists have hit at state and business symbols like the Pentagon and the World Trade Center on 9/11; they’ve hit transport networks such as in Madrid and London; and they’ve hit major tourist spots like Bali and Tunisia. But the attacks on Paris and Brussels most recently show an alarming new trend: It’s no longer about the number of people dead and injured or the infrastructure hit; it’s now about the about the panic and terror that ensue and the idea that they could strike anywhere, at any moment. It’s the fear of the unknown they now capitalise on and that’s not going away. No amount of security, military operations and constant surveillance will stop what is inevitable: we will always be at threat from terrorism and we must learn to accept it.