Concert halls, hospitals, subways and main streets are all places people frequented with ease. That is until they became common place targets in our new era of expanded terrorism. The violent attack in Paris and the subsequent violence in London have made it clear that targets are no longer restricted to war regions or unstable territories, but rather impact ordinary people in peaceful nations. This type of terrorism is known as ‘soft target terror’. The rise of soft target terror has many people living constantly on edge of the next attack, forcing governments around the world to build stronger security systems through the use of more vigilant security screenings and the introduction of new laws that give governments more sweeping rights to combat violent extremism. However, after the latest terror incident on a London subway train, it is clear the security system is not working perfectly and much more effort needs to be done.
|▲ Terrorist Attack in Paris in 2015. (Photo From Google)|
The term soft target terror has been around since the late 60s, but has been used more regularly since 9/11. Prior to the growth in soft target attacks, terrorists mostly struck hard targets like governments or organizations where terrorists could try to extort certain demands. However, these days, soft target terrorism has taken a firm root in the world and the victims are now, more than ever, ordinary citizens living in peaceful nations. Even the safest countries in Europe have been targets of soft terror attacks of late, including Finland and Sweden.
To understand the concept of soft target terror, the Dankook Herald (the DKH) interviewed Lee Man-jong, President of the Korean Association for Terrorism Studies. He stated that the difference in approach is more than simply a different definition or a new target. First, terrorists have been getting younger. They are usually in their late teens or twenties. Next, statistically there are many from Muslim nations who were already criminals in their own country. Furthermore, many people do not understand the purpose of these attacks, making them difficult to predict and prevent.
This, however, still does not explain why they are targeting normal citizens instead of governments or government institutions. Therefore, the DKH asked Mr. Lee about the increase in soft target terror attacks. He argued that it is hard for terrorists to commit hard target terrors these days because countries have been working hard on developing their anti-terrorism policies and practices. This means it is harder for even internationally connected terrorist organizations to attack other countries remotely, including groups like the Islamic State (IS). Moreover, because allied forces around the world are working together to combat terror, groups like IS have lost a lot of their power to perpetrate more hard target terrorism. Instead they chose to support the spread of more autonomous radical Islamic terrorists, by offering them strategies for attack and skills for weaponry to be used in nations around the globe. These factors have allowed terrorists to have an easier time executing soft terrorism with a narrower range of weapons that are easily accessible or simple to assemble. As individuals, they can blend well into ordinary communities and often pass unnoticed on the streets; that is until they execute their brutal terror on unsuspecting citizens. Unfortunately, since their actions and targets are seemingly random, our ability to predict their onset is proving a huge challenge and as a result, they are causing more fear and gaining more attention globally.
|▲ France decided to extend state of national emergency. (Photo from Google)|
Therefore, many countries implemented new programs to address the safety of their citizens. Following the terrorist attack last November in Paris, the French government declared a 3 month state of emergency, that gave them the power to, among other things, carry out searches without warrants and hold people without trial, whenever they thought it was in the interests of national security. Switzerland, on the other hand, reexamined their financial system in the hopes of closing off any accounts that could indirectly support terrorist organizations. The Japanese government created harsher penalties for anyone known to be related to terrorist activities. While they are all different approaches, they share one thing in common, they are precautionary measures.
Mr. Lee believes they do not go far enough. He feels that while supervision is an effective way to prevent terror, it isn’t perfect. For instance, France was already keeping a close watch on potential terrorist suspects and this clearly was not enough. Therefore, he argued, anti-terror strategies focused on discriminated, neglected or suffering classes of people should be developed to more effectively prevent autonomous terrorist activity. Furthermore, he stated that anti-soft terrorism policies should be flexible enough to deal with the new realities of soft terrorism. Meanwhile, in Korea, the public has not caught on to the idea that threats occur everywhere. Even after the attack at the Ariana Grande pop concert in Manchester, the Korean government failed to enact policies for preventing soft terror.
It is clear that there is no perfect solution to preventing soft terrorism. If governments secure the resources to supervise anything and everything, there will be a high possibility of violating people’s rights. If they choose to block visas for people coming from countries that support terrorism and terrorist activities, they can be accused of discrimination by their own people. If they want to deal with terrorism on a reactionary basis, they risk the lives of their own citizens. Thus, the ideal solution should include a realistic compromise between supervision and privacy, as well as developing a greater understanding of diverse races and nationalities. Regardless of the fact that none of these ideas are easy to implement, governments desperately need enough support from the public to warrant giving it a try.
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