We need to learn lessons from the 2004 Madrid attack
Article published in The Times, 16 November 2015. © Richard Kemp
The 2004 bomb attack in Madrid that killed 191 people was a strategic victory for jihadists that went far beyond the carnage on Spain’s rail network. Al-Qaeda could boast that they had changed the outcome of the general election that followed and forced Spanish troops out of Iraq. This became a cornerstone of propaganda for jihadists everywhere and an incalculable boost for al-Qaeda recruitment and funding.
After Friday’s attack in Paris there will be a desire within France for similar appeasement of Islamic State. We hear already the predictable faint-hearted warnings from those who are terrified of provoking jihadist rage by striking back.
Of course jihadists react violently to aggression against them. But the choice is to fight or to submit to terror. In the face of
blood-lust and subjugation, the cause is worth the casualties. In any case, Isis has declared war on our countries, and will
attack us whatever we do.
It is imperative that France does not succumb to the fear that cowed the Spanish electorate. They should immediately intensify air attacks in Iraq and Syria. But this is not enough. Isis must be eradicated and France cannot do it alone, or with the coalition that has won limited success with half-hearted attacks.
After 9/11 the US invoked Article 5 of the Nato treaty, which calls on every member to aid a nation under armed attack. As Manuel Valls, the French prime minister, said this weekend: “We have been hit by an act of war, organised methodically by a terrorist, jihadist army.”
Now is the time for concerted Nato action to eradicate Isis. Nato, and its regional allies, must deploy powerful ground and air forces against Isis strongholds in Syria and Iraq.
If the West fails to act decisively, Isis will continue to gain in strength in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. It will continue to recruit and train jihadists from around the world, some of whom will travel to western countries to attack us.
Opinion polls reveal the frightening extent of support for Isis among Muslims everywhere. In the terms used by Osama bin Laden, Isis is the “strong horse”, making a heroic — and successful — stand against the West and apostate Muslim nations.
This support is vital to Isis’s international recruitment as well as its capability to strike at the West. The weakness of Isis must be demonstrated by overwhelming force, and jihadists who wish to destroy our societies shown that we will still fight for our values and freedoms.