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Counterterrorism expert Max Abrahms describes ‘two kinds of Islamic State threats,’ after NYC attack

A 29-year-old man was taken into custody Tuesday afternoon after driving a rented Home Depot truck onto a New York City bike path and striking multiple people before colliding with a school bus and exiting the vehicle with two firearms, NYPD confirmed.

Eight people were killed and a dozen more were injured. The suspect, identified by law enforcement as Sayfullo Saipov, was shot in the stomach by an officer at the scene before officials recovered a paintball gun and a pellet gun, police said. Saipov was taken into custody and road closures remained in effect Wednesday morning due to the ongoing investigation.

“This was a cowardly act of terror,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted after the attack. “It was intended to break our spirit. But New Yorkers are resilient. We will be undeterred.”

Counterterrorism expert and GRI Faculty Affiliate Max Abrahms, an assistant professor of political science and public policy professor at Northeastern University, weighed in on the attack, in an interview with BBC World News.

A bicycle lies on a bike path at the crime scene where a motorist earlier Tuesday drove onto the path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)
A bicycle lies on a bike path at the crime scene where a motorist earlier Tuesday drove onto the path near the World Trade Center memorial, striking and killing several people, Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, in New York. (AP Photo/Andres Kudacki)

“In a way this attack isn’t all that surprising,” Abrahms said. “The caliphate, the stronghold of the Islamic State, in Iraq and in Syria, is shrinking. So there has been a heightened fear that the attacks are going to be more dispersed and the United States is the leading country in the anti-Islamic State military coalition — and New York is the capital, with loads of media coverage.”

Abrahms added, “This is an attack using a truck. Islamic State as well as Al-Qaeda, the leaderships have been calling since 2014 for these sorts of attacks. That said, this is the first lethal terrorist incident in New York City since 9/11. In that sense, it isn’t the norm.”

BBC’s Sally Bundock asked Abrahms, how do you counter these kinds of lone wolf attacks?

“I’ve always thought that there were two kinds of Islamic State threats that we’re fighting against,” Abrahms said. “There’s the Islamic State organization, which is based in its stronghold of Iraq and in Syria and our militaries do a very good job of crushing organizations, especially when there’s broad-based international support as we’ve had. However, the more international problem, the sporadic attacks — whether they’re Islamic State-directed, or Islamic State-inspired — the reality is that we do not have an answer for this problem. And I do not anticipate us getting an answer. It’s not as if this guy drew attention because he was trying to purchase bomb components. He apparently had a clean record in the United States, for a long time and then he used a vehicle and accelerated towards soft targets, civilians — tourists it would seem — on a bike path. So how do you prevent that? There really is no good answer.”

Anyone with video or images from the truck attack is asked to send them to the FBI or the NYPD by visiting: www.fbi.gov/nyctribeca. Those with information can also call 1-800-CALL-FBI or 1-800-577-TIPS.