Tracking the path toward radicalization of individuals like the San Bernardino suspects is very difficult, a terrorism expert tells DW. That’s why the US should focus on gun control and look at countries like Britain.
DW: In the aftermath of the San Bernardino incident what can the US do to try to prevent domestic terrorist attacks like that in the future?
Raffaelo Pantucci: The problem is the easy availability of guns there. When you have access to that sort of weaponry it is going to immediately lower the threshold of anyone with any radical or angry ideas to lash out. So I think clearly something about gun control needs to be done.
On the other side of the equation is the need to understand better how this increasingly diffuse form of radicalization is taking place and try to understand who is actually being drawn to these ideologies. We are increasingly finding out that they are very widely accessible.
On gun control, a hot button issue in the US, would you then suggest regulating certain weaponry like semi-automatic guns?
The problem is that the debate is much larger than just terrorist incidents. Automatic weapons are a bad idea, I believe, to have in society in general. Having more of them around is just going to increase the potential for these sorts of problems at this point. The fact that they are so easily available and there are so many around means that even if you were to start talking about banning them it would be a very long time before you really removed them from your streets because of the volume of these guns that are still circulating. So, yes, stronger gun controls needs to be put in place about, frankly, all weaponry. At the same time, it is difficult to envisage how this can be done.
Regarding radicalization, apparently the San Bernardino shooting suspects traveled to Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and compiled a huge stash of weaponry and ammunition prior to the terrorist attack. How could all of this have gone unnoticed by US law enforcement and intelligence services?
As far as the guns are concerned, because these are easily available in the United States it probably wouldn't set off any alarms. On their online activity and travel abroad, both are from immigrant communities so they have strong links to those parts of the world and so it is natural that they would travel back and forth. And in terms of the radical material that they may have consumed online, the difficulty is there is a lot out there. And it is very difficult to distinguish actual individuals moving in a radicalized direction versus individuals with a passing curiosity in something or people who may have landed on a website by accident. So all of these indicators that may appear now to be blatantly obvious wouldn't have necessarily distinguished them from perhaps a broader pool of people who are completely innocent.
If you were advising President Obama and Congress on what to do what would you tell them?
I think gun control clearly has to be put at the top of the agenda. Not only because of this attack, but because of the number of terrorist attacks of every sort of political stripe that we have seen happen in the United States.
I think in terms of trying to track this kind of threat, there has to be a realization that these kinds of threats are going to be very difficult to track. But because you live in an environment where there is so much easier access to weaponrs it means that these sorts of incidents are so much worse. If we look back here to the United Kingdom there was what appeared to be a sort of similar incident, sudden radicalization and move to action in London last Friday night. However the individual was only able to get his hands on a knife and so was able to badly wound one person and slash another. Had this individual had access to weaponry and had this been in the United States it is possible we would have been looking at a much more bloody incident.
Raffaello Pantucci is director of international security studies at Britain's Royal United Services Institute (RUSI). He is the author of "We Love Death As You Love Life: Britain's Suburban Terrorists", published earlier this year.
The interview was conducted by Michael Knigge.