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'Attack crowds!'

Kerstin Knipp / gro, cbJuly 15, 2016

The truck attack in Nice followed a jihadist strategy that has been circulating on the internet for a long time. The aim is to use simple means to kill as many people as possible. One way is by using a motor vehicle.

Frankreich Anschlag Lastwagen-Attacke in Nizza
Image: Reuters/E. Gaillard

No bombs? No problem. Abu Mohammad al-Adnani, former spokesman of the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) reminded jihadists in a September 2014 video message that they had many other options to kill people.

"If you can kill a disbelieving American or European - especially the spiteful and filthy French - or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever …, smash his head with a rock, or slaughter him with a knife, or run him over with your car, or throw him down from a high place, or choke him, or poison him," al-Adnani said in the video.

Al-Adnani was born Taha Subhi Falaha in the Syrian Idlib region in 1977 or 1978. His orders aren't just a sign of personal radicalization. They're consciously picking up the strategy of "individual" terrorism that has been making the rounds online since about 2005.

Terror cell in Afghanistan

The attack in Nice shows how relevant this strategy still is. The call on individuals to wreak havoc in this way was first issued by al-Adnani's fellow countryman Mustafa bin Abd al-Qadir Setmariam Nasar. Probably born in 1958, the Syrian terrorist with the war name Abu Musab al-Suri fought against the Red Army alongside the mujahideen in Afghanistan.

That's where he met Osama bin Laden. Back in Europe, al-Suri ("the Syrian") helped build up the continent's jihadist network. He's suspected of playing a major part in the founding of the Spanish al Qaeda branch - the group that blew up several commuter trains in Madrid in 2003.

Al-Suri is also said to have had connections to the terrorists who attacked the London subway in 2005. That year, he was arrested in Pakistan and later extradited to Syria. His trail runs cold in the prisons of the Assad regime.

Osama bin Laden und Abu Musab al-Suri
Al-Suri (r.), seen here with former al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden, was the inventor of "individual" terrorismImage: gemeinfrei

After the publication online in 2004/ 2005, al-Suri's "Call to Global Islamic Resistance" became the jihadist field manual. In it, he accuses the "American-Jewish crusaders" of purposefully destroying the Islamic world. He said they were doing it by spreading their "culture of decay," which according to al-Suri included adultery, nakedness and mixing of genders.

'War without borders'

As a response to the alleged decay of society, al-Suri recommends a "war without borders." He says there are many different targets: politicians, military officials, airports, harbors, train stations, bridges, highway interchanges, subways and tourist destinations.

Military bases and computer centers can also be attacked, as can "soft" targets such as media companies and their representatives. Other locations of interest are places where Jews and/or famous Jewish personalities meet, as well as Jewish institutions. Places of worship or synagogues are not included.

"Resistance" must be sustained with full force. "The mass murder of civilians is the kind of attack that can destabilize states and governments. This is done by attacking crowds to cause a maximum loss of human lives."

Soldiers at Lee Rigby's funeral
The funeral of Lee Rigby, a British soldier killed in May 2013 by jihadists in LondonImage: Getty Images

It is easy, maintains al-Suri, as there are many such targets. "For example, sports arenas, annual social events, major international exhibitions, busy market squares, skyscrapers and buildings with many people."

It is exactly the plan that jihadists have followed in Africa and Asia, in the attack on the editorial team of the satire magazine Charlie Hebdo and in the Bataclan killing. Two jihadists followed the same plan back in 2013 when they ran down British solider Lee Rigby on the street and then used knives and a cleaver to stab him to death.

'The management of savagery'

Around the time of Abu Suri's writings, another text was published on the web: "The Management of Savagery" ("Idarat at-Tawahush"). The apparent author is an unidentified Egyptian who goes by the name of Abu Bakr Naji. He was one of the pioneers of al Qaeda and he also advocates the maximum use of violence.

"If we are not violent in our jihad and if softness seizes us, that will be a major factor in the loss of the element of strength, which is one of the pillars of the Umma of the Message. The Umma which possesses strength is the Umma which is able to protect the positions it has won and it is the Umma which boldly faces horrors and has the firmness of mountains. These are the good qualities which we have lost in this age."

French soldiers patrolling in front of the Eiffel Tower
Watching for danger: Soldiers on patrol at a landmark in ParisImage: picture-alliance/dpa/E. Laurent

According to Bakr Naji, violence is an essential tool of the struggle. He is not referring to activities like the airplane attacks on the World Trade Center in New York in September 2001. Instead, he recommends taking "smaller" actions. Above all, they must achieve one goal: to instill fear and horror in the hearts of the "crusaders."