In the space of a few short hours, three separate terrorist incidents shocked the world. It might be incumbent upon the thinking individual to suggest some sort of pattern here or to determine the links between these different events to put forward an overarching paradigm, but it would also be foolhardy and somewhat disingenuous.
In the case of the assassination of the Russian ambassador to Turkey, the perpetrator was a young Turkish man in his early 20s, whose day job was a riot police officer. It is because of his position that he was able to get access to the ambassador, even though it was not his watch. Having killed the Russian ambassador, the attacker shouted that Aleppo ‘should not be forgotten’. While many may point to the idea of this being a PKK or an Islamic State murder, the reality is that it was probably a ‘lone wolf’ attack inspired more by domestic Turkish politics thsn Islamic State.
The attack on the mosque in Zürich seems as if it is classical racially motivated, carried out by a thug or low-level criminal. The body of the assailant has been found dead, but the identity has still not yet been revealed. There are two oppositional theories here: the attacker is a Muslim, with racist beliefs. Or a racist with anti-Muslim beliefs.
However, the truck attack in Berlin was initially thought to have been carried out by a 23-year-old Pakistani refugee, who had come to Germany in December 2015. Known for petty criminality, he was not seen as a security risk or threat. Angel Merkel faces another political backlash against her relatively open immigration policy. Whipped up by certain sensationalist media and by various political actors determined to make capital from this, the refugee community in Germany will be under the sharp gaze of a public increasingly resistant to immigration of any kind.
It is difficult to try to find a way through all of this. My belief is that some very estranged chap who was deeply affected by the recent images and reporting coming out of Aleppo targeted the Russian ambassador as an indirect way to get at Russia for bombing civilians. He could also have been a very disgruntled Gulenist, given his links to the police service. This is pure speculation at this point, but the latter would fall into a narrative that would be hugely welcomed by the AKP government.
These attacks heightened concern in relation to terrorism across the world, much of it inspired by radical Islamism, but also increasingly far right extremism. The view that many people hold is that the world is descending into a state of chaos, where terrorism is the new normal. While it would not be inaccurate to say that there is certainly a problem, the sharp rise in casualties because of terrorism has fallen largely due to the decline of the Islamic State.
The attacks on Western targets tend to be highly impactful, although the number of casualties tends to be relatively small compared with those in the Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia. Here, ethnic, sectarian, tribal and political conflicts are as much to blame for people’s motivations in relation to terrorism as are issues of corruption, cronyism, despotism, militarism and acute underdevelopment.