One thing that can be said for the job of a war correspondent: It has job security.
I received word of the attack in Spain while resting at home after having just returned from a week in Eastern Europe. Three hours later I was on a 10-hour red-eye bound for Madrid. Three more hours on a high-speed train and I reached the site of the latest jihadi atrocity in Europe, a busy pedestrian shopping boulevard in downtown Barcelona called “La Rambla.”
Media trucks lined one end of the square where the Moroccan terrorist, barely out of his teens, had turned off a thoroughfare in a rented box van and floored it, mowing down unsuspecting tourists like a drunk driver plowing through a cornfield.
He drove two kilometers down La Rambla that way. When the van became so damaged that it could no longer move, the terrorist at the wheel ran, melting away into the chaos. In the end, 13 lay dead, nearly a hundred wounded. That they hailed from 34 countries shows how popular the place is. In fact, Barcelona is Europe’s second most popular tourist destination, outside of Paris, France.
It’s easy to see why. The people are as warm as the weather. The food is rich and exotic. The architecture and art are jaw-droppingly beautiful.
Squatting in an abandoned house, they had collected more than 120 gas canisters like the ones you use on your barbecue …But as the details emerged of the horror perpetrated on the city by yet another hate-filled Salafist terror cell, the people of Catalunya realized the attack could have been much, much worse.
The cell was made up of Moroccan immigrants, believed to number a dozen in all. They lived in a tiny community called Alcanar about 120 miles down the coast from Barcelona. Squatting in an abandoned house, they had collected more than 120 gas canisters like the ones you use on your barbecue, and were busily constructing several mammoth bombs using an explosive mixture called TATP.
Their plan had been to drive the bombs in rented box vans to one or more well-known landmarks around Barcelona, like the world-famous Sagrada Familia Basilica, or perhaps the beautiful Barcelona Cathedral. Packed with tourists this time of year, the resulting explosions would have likely killed hundreds and robbed Spain—and the world—of some of its most revered and beautiful architecture.
Fortunately, the terrorists made a mistake while mixing the ingredients for TATP and their safe house erupted like it had been hit with a Tomahawk missile. The two men inside were killed, and the house reduced to rubble.
Jihadi Plan A literally went up in a mushroom cloud over the town of Alcanar.
Knowing their cell would now be discovered, the remaining terrorists switched to Plan B.
Later, five Moroccans loaded into a stolen car and went looking for soft targets. At 1 a.m. Friday morning, they drove into a small group of pedestrians, killing one and injuring six more. The five then jumped out intending to go on a stabbing rampage with knives, machetes and axes.
Then, a good guy with a gun showed up. A police officer shot and killed four of the suspects; the fifth died later. Bystander video shows one attacker charging police before being gunned down.
Realizing their time was short, 22-year-old Younes Abouyaaqoub drove one of the rented vans into Barcelona and perpetrated horror on the softest target he could find—the thousands of tourists strolling along La Rambla.
When I arrived, police were still everywhere, armed with HK-UMP submachine guns. Many shops were closed along the boulevard, but the crowds, if anything, had gotten bigger as the curious mingled with the mourners who had come to pay their respects. Impromptu memorials sprung up along the street ,and many left notes, mementos and candles. One woman sang a religious song, while several 20-somethings held signs offering free hugs.
Then, a good guy with a gun showed up. A police officer shot and killed four of the suspects; the fifth died later.But hugs are like a shot of blackberry brandy to dull the discomfort of a bad cold. It might make you feel better, but it will do nothing to fix the problem.
On Friday afternoon, just over 24 hours after the attacks, a crowd of protesters showed up on La Rambla carrying flags and placards that read “No more mosques!” And, “Stop the Islamization of Europe!” They were tattooed skinhead types, and were immediately and vehemently shouted down by a much larger crowd of Catalonians. The larger group began shouting “Fuera! Fuera!” (“Get out! Get out!”) at the protesters, and things soon started to spiral out of control. A few fistfights broke out, and the riot police were called in. Dueling chants went on for more than an hour until the protest finally disbanded.
As distasteful as it was for either group to capitalize on such a tragedy for their own political ends, the questions raised by both sides bear discussion.
Europe is in the throes of a low-order insurgency, not unlike the one U.S. troops faced in Iraq. It pits two vastly outmatched forces, in this case the government against the terrorists. The Jihadis don’t need to stage a frontal assault, however. Their attacks are seemingly random, low-tech and are intended to cause death by a thousand cuts. Unfettered immigration from majority-Muslim countries is a concern, not because the refugees aren’t truly in need, but because the migrants siphon a massive amount of social welfare to which they never contributed. Even worse, a sizable percentage of these migrants never intend to assimilate and indeed, hold to a worldview that is fundamentally incompatible with European culture. For those migrants, their enemy is paying them to come and kill him. Why bother with a “caliphate” in some godforsaken corner of Syria when they can live in comparative splendor among the very people they hope to target? It’s like getting invited to hunt big game at the zoo.
I was surprised by how many Muslims I met along La Rambla. They had come to express their sorrow for the attack and to beg people to see that not all Muslims fit the mold of the angry Jihadi. Those I spoke to were all what I would call modern, secular Muslims, whose understanding of their religion was incompatible with Salafist theology.
But how to separate those from the “devout,” radicalized few who adhere to a toxic brand of Islam? How indeed.
I’ve reported on the immigration issue from 10 European countries in the past year. If there’s one thing that is abundantly clear, it’s that few countries on the continent are willing to have the hard conversations this problem requires. If anything, Europe is assimilating to its guests, not the other way around.
What this means is that this assault on Western Civilization will not stop—not in our lifetime. Sadly, this means we will continue to wake up to horrors like Barcelona, Brussels, Paris, Stockholm, Finland, London and Madrid—and thousands more will be sacrificed on the altar of multiculturalism.
It also means that if you plan to see many of the famous landmarks of Europe, you’d better do it soon. Europe has changed dramatically in the past 30 years. It will be all but unrecognizable in the next 30.
Chuck Holton is a veteran Army ranger and NRATV correspondent.