I used to be an Islamic extremist. This is the truth about how you can prevent further terror attacks
I found myself in conversations with members about how we would bomb the London Underground. I was concerned about my operational capability, not about the death or the misery I would inflict
From my time in the Islamist organisation Al-Muhajiroun (now banned and referred to as “Isis UK”), I know how radicalisation works – I used to do it. I would target people, just like I was targeted, and then use a deadly combination of local grievances and rehearsed narratives to lure them deeper into a complex, insular and disturbing world. At one point, I found myself in conversations with members about how we would bomb the London Underground. It was terrible. I was concerned about my operational capability, not about the death or the misery I would inflict. This is what extremism does to you.
When I first encountered this organisation, its Islamist narrative quickly gave me a sense of purpose into which I could fuel my personal and societal grievances. Extremism is an exploitative process; religious, not religious, political or apolitical, it will find a way to give you clarity amid complexity. The feeling is powerful and all-encompassing.
The Nice killer, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, is a classic case of rapid radicalisation, where an unstable life was given purpose by the clarity of Islamism. To stop future attacks, we must focus on the ingredients of the radicalisation cocktail rather than its end product.
Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel was reportedly a sporty womaniser who enjoyed salsa and drinking, and he was radicalised within a matter of weeks or even days. He was unknown to intelligence services and picked both his weapon and his targets at random. The process of radicalisation is getting shorter and the choice of soft targets and weapons is becoming more unpredictable. We have entered a new era of terrorism. As President Hollande termed it, the “terrorism of opportunity” is on the rise and we are likely to see more attacks of this kind. The shift away from centralised planning of attacks towards operational independence demands a nuanced counter-strategy beyond extreme state security measures.
French security forces are already stretched to the limit and have been operating around the clock
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