Once again on Tuesday, U.S. citizens faced Islamist terrorism on American soil. An immigrant from Uzbekistan, 29-year-old Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, is suspected of killing eight people and injuring around a dozen more in a vehicle attack in New York. The methodology of the attack itself is nothing new, though it does represent a somewhat recent evolution in terrorist tactics. One other aspect of this particular incident has received little coverage but is, possibly, a sinister harbinger of a future trend.
On September 1, 2004, a school in Beslan, in the Russian republic of North Ossetia was overrun by Chechen rebels. The Chechens held more than 1,100 people hostage for three days before Russian security forces stormed the school. When the dust settled – quite literally – more than 340 civilians were dead, including 186 children. The rebels, who could just as accurately be called terrorists, had chosen their target well. The Beslan massacre left a deep scar on the Russian people. The unthinkable was now thinkable; children were incredibly handy targets for those willing to perpetrate any evil in the name of their ideology.
In truth, it would be false to say that Beslan was the beginning of a runaway trend. Using numbers from the Global Terrorism Database, The Atlantic published a report in 2014 that noted an increase in terror attacks on educational establishments since 2004. Attacks of this nature, however, have remained a minuscule percentage of all terror attacks. In 2004, such attacks accounted for a mere 2% of all terrorist actions, and by 2013 they still only accounted for 3%.
Although still a small percentage of all attacks, the number of terrorist assaults again educational institutions has increased sharply. Instances per year averaged around 50 between 1970 and 2004 but, since then, that number has risen steadily, with over 350 such attacks in 2013 – mostly in South Asia.
Terrorism, across the world, and throughout the years, has gone through many evolutions. In the western world today, Islamist extremists have found a new way to assault us on our own streets. Vehicle attacks are relatively cheap, low-profile, and require little or no preparation.