London horror: ISIS claims responsibility

Mounting terror: Three terrorists mowed down several victims in a van, and stabbed many more.

As ISIS claimed last night that it ordered Saturday’s London Bridge attack, the world once again attempted to understand the motivations of the killers. Where does this evil come from?

“I won’t call them monsters because they would like that term. They would think that’s a great name. I will call them, from now on, losers, because that’s what they are. They are losers. And we will have more of them. But they are losers, just remember that.”

These were the words of US president Donald Trump in reaction to the attack on the Manchester Arena that left 22 dead and dozens injured.

It is just the latest attempt to understand the psychology of deliberately picking a crowded place, turning up there armed with a bomb or a van or a kitchen knife, and killing as many people as possible — in the full knowledge that you will die as well.

Trying to understand the motives of these attacks involves untangling the symbiosis of an extreme, radical form of Islam and the worst depths of human evil.

Broadly speaking, there are two competing schools of thought.

One is the “Islamisation of radicalism”. This theory states that the new generation of homegrown European terrorists, who come from a huge variety of backgrounds, are “violent nihilists who adopt Islam, rather than religious fundamentalists who turn to violence,” as Olivier Roy writes in The Guardian.

He puts forward the idea that Islamic State is a death cult, echoing Osama bin Laden’s famous statement: “We love death as you love life”. Roy writes, “What seduces and fascinates is the idea of pure revolt. Violence is not a means. It is an end in itself.” The theory states that radical Islam is an excuse for violence, not its cause.

The other hypothesis claims that the theological angle is central. The main evidence for this is the words of the extremists themselves. The London Bridge attackers reportedly shouted “this is for Allah” as they stabbed.

In 2016 an article was published in Dabiq, the ISIS propaganda magazine, entitled: “Why we kill you and why we fight you.” The article says: “We hate you because you are disbelievers,” and adds “because your secular, liberal societies permit the very things that Allah has prohibited.”

Which thesis is more accurate?

The mind of a killer

“The root cause of this is human evil, not Islam,” say some. Suicide terrorism and organisations such as al-Qaeda and ISIS are new in the history of the Muslim world. This is about nihilism, and it is more helpful to compare it with other forms of radicalism that feature “generational revolt and self-destruction”.

“Why are we forever searching for motives when they are in plain view?” reply others. Terrorists tell us why they kill, all the time. They boast about it. This is about a violent ideology infecting the minds of impressionable young people. Stop second-guessing their motives and listen to what they actually say.

You Decide

  1. Is human evil the main cause of terrorism?
  2. Will terrorism be around forever?


  1. Work in pairs. You are working on the police investigation into the London Bridge attack. Write down five questions you will try to answer, and discuss how you will try to answer them.
  2. In 500 words, and referring to a variety of theories, write down what you think are the main causes of terrorism.

Some People Say...

“Without religion there would be no terrorism.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That Islamic State (ISIS) has claimed responsibility for the attack, as it did for the attack at the Manchester Arena. For ISIS, such attacks are part of a theological war against anyone and everyone who does not follow its particular brand of Islam. But it is also true that many terrorists do not come from especially radical backgrounds, and that many have been petty criminals in the past.
What do we not know?
By wearing fake suicide bomb vests, the terrorists must have known that armed police would have to kill them at the scene of their crimes. But we may never truly know their motives or those of Salman Abedi, who blew himself up in Manchester, of any number of terrorists in recent history. And the police still have a lot to find out about the perpetrators.

Word Watch

Manchester Arena
An indoor arena in the centre of Manchester, the largest city in the north of England; with the highest UK indoor seating capacity it is frequently used for concerts, as well as sporting events such as boxing and swimming.
Salman Abedi was born in Britain to Libyan parents.
Death cult
In his article, Roy explains that the Islamic State is a death cult because “its nihilism makes it impossible to reach a political solution, engage in any form of negotiation, or achieve any stable society within recognised borders.”
“We love death as you love life”
The phrase, attributed to Bin Laden, has become a motto for terrorists around the world.
London Bridge
There have also been claims on social media of revenge for attacks on ISIS in Syria.
The name of the magazine comes from a small village in northern Syria where, according to Islamic eschatology, or ideas about the end of the world, a decisive battle will be fought between the forces of Islam and the “Crusaders” or the “Romans”. The recapture of Dabiq from ISIS last year was seen as a great symbolic victory.

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