The latest spate of terrorist attacks shows that measures taken thus far have been ineffective. Russian experts suggest that more coordination between security services and a deeper look at the roots of the problem could help.

Flowers and candles outside the French Embassy in Moscow in memory of the victims of the terrorist act in Nice. Photo: RIA Novosti

Despite the fact that many European countries, notably France, significantly stepped up anti-terrorism and security measures after the series of terrorist attacks in Brussels and in Paris in recent months, the latest incident in Nice indicates that terrorists are not giving up but rather becoming more persistent.

More than 84 people, including a number of Russian tourists, were killed Thursday when a truck driven by a 31-year-old French citizen of Tunisian origin rammed through a police barrier and into a crowd celebrating Bastille Day along the Nice promenade.

The tragedy is a reminder that such events are unpredictable and can take place anywhere. Such incidents are almost becoming commonplace in the countries of the Middle East, South Asia and Africa as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Greater Syria (ISIS) refocuses its efforts on spreading terror rather than building a caliphate. The grim frequency of such incidents forces countries to ask whether they are capable of responding decisively.

George Gobronidze, a foreign policy expert and a lecturer at the Georgian American University, said that effectively combating terrorism is difficult because criminals are constantly deriving new ways of spreading terror while the police and security services usually rely on old intelligence methods.

“[The European countries] cannot prevent terror attacks despite a series of recent attacks there [in Brussels, Paris and Nice], because terrorists are becoming more innovative and come up with new methods of how to spread panic and fears in society. They seem to be always one step ahead of the security services, and this is a problem.” Gobronidze told Russia Direct on the sidelines of a forum on the problems of the South Caucasus in Batumi, Georgia.

When asked if Russian experience could be useful for Europe, Gobronidze said that it would be of limited help as the origins of Russian terrorism are different from the ones of the EU and the West in general.

Sergey Markedonov, an expert in the Caucasus and an associate professor at the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH), agrees that every country has its own unique experience in fighting terrorists and providing security. They cannot be blindly copied, but instead should be adjusted to specific realities.  

Meanwhile, Akhmet Yarlykapov, senior researcher at Center for Caucasian Studies and Regional Security at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO University), says that Europe in general and France in particular are attractive targets for terrorists for a number of reasons. For one thing, France has structural flaws in its security measures. Secondly, the size of the country and the place it holds in the Western imagination makes any attack in France sure to cause a huge outcry in the press and social media.

“There are three key countries in Europe, including Great Britain, Germany and France that may be interesting to terrorists,” Yarlykapov added. “And France is one of the most vulnerable and significant to put terrorists in the spotlight.”

Markedonov argues that the attack in Nice doesn’t mean that the security situation in France leaves much to be desired; it just indicates that the French authorities don’t clearly understand the deep roots of terrorism. They don’t send coherent messages to the intelligence services on how to fight the threat of radical Islam.

“It is not a matter of the quality of security services: I don’t believe that France doesn’t have competent special service officers,” Markedonov told Russia Direct. “It is a matter of understanding the trends in ideological shifts in society by a country’s political elites.”

According to Markedonov, increasing security in airports and other public places won’t resolve the problem, because these moves focus on preventing terror attacks at the moment they are carried out, not at the moment when they are conceived.

“If authorities believe by establishing detecting and security frameworks in airports, they will resolve the problem, they are wrong,” Markedonov said. “We need to deal with hearts and minds of people.” He added that terror attacks are often committed by citizens of the countries where they are carried out rather than by immigrants.

Also read: Russia Direct Report "Terrorism: Inside Russia's Syria campaign and the global fight against extremism"

Moving forward

One thing that has become clear over the past year is that no continent or country is immune from these incidents. Yulia Sveshnikova, a research fellow at National Research University – Higher School of Economics (HSE), argues that the incidents of similar origin in third world countries also should be taken into account, but they are often neglected. She pointed out that the terror attack at a Western-style café in Dhaka, Bangladesh earlier this month indicates that the world should look at the problem in a global context and clarify the reasons terrorists choose particular targets.

“The West is seen as the oppressor by terrorists and they see their activity as sacred resistance against the generalized evil, conducted under the label of pseudo-Islamic fight against infidels,” she told Russia Direct.

Expanding cooperation to fight terrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia, where most terrorists are being trained, is crucial. In the opinion of the Carnegie Moscow Center's Dmitri Trenin, there is a serious threat for the expansion of Islamic terrorism in Central Asia, including Kazakhstan and Afghanistan, and that, because of its influence in this region, Russia should reinvigorate its contribution to the global fight against terror.

“There are a great deal of potential problems there [in Central Asia],” he told Russia Direct in a recent interview. “And Russia will have to deal with these problems, given the fact that Afghanistan borders former Soviet republics that are going through a very difficult time. We don’t actually know what is happening there beneath the surface somewhere in the Fergana Valley [A region of Central Asia that spreads across eastern Uzbekistan, southern Kyrgyzstan and northern Tajikistan – Editor's Note].”

Pointing to the example of a June shooting in the Kazakh town of Aktobe, close to the Russian border, Trenin said that Moscow should increase its understanding of what is going on in the region.

This article was written on the sidelines of a forum on the problems of the South Caucasus in Batumi, Georgia, organized by the Gorchakov Foundation, a Russian organization focused on public diplomacy, and Caucasian House, the Georgian Center for Cultural Relations.