The recent attack against tourists in Tunisia tends to demonstrate that IS multiple calls for leaderless resistance are paying off. The reason is simple. There is no need for command and control, no need for a complicated chain of support, but simply a matter of people reading IS literature and being frustrated by the situation in their country. An armed assault as the one that recently occurred in Tunisia is anything but sophisticated. The scary part is it doesn’t take a lot of planning. A guy with an AK 47 just walks up and starts shooting down a lot of people. It is extremely difficult to prevent that from happening. There are too many supporters or sympathizers to survey.
This is also a clear message from the militants: we are on the move and you can’t stop us.But the leaderless resistance strategy puts the grassroots jihadists without support from the core of the organisation. Those volunteers are most of the time poor professionals in terrorism tradecraft with insignificant training and funding.
Shift to soft targets
Since 2005, Al Qaeda and the global jihadist movement as a whole moved from centralised leadership organisations toward regional franchises. These groups are less professional and often unable to attacks hard targets.
In addition, increased security measures at hard targets, such as government facilities or embassies, have forced terrorists to move toward more vulnerable soft targets. The choice went on to striking international hotels. This tendency has been accelerating for 10 years.International hotels are often full of Western businessmen or diplomats and Government people. International hotels in major cities are indeed high value environment for militants seeking to kill people and gain international media coverage.
Threat on hotels
The unlikely possibility to success of an attack on traditional hard targets has left the jihadists with no option than to shift to soft targets. But such strikes are seen, from a terrorist point of view, as low symbolic value with limited political and ideological benefit. Within the range of soft targets, international hotels provide the combination of symbolism and a death toll. The jihadists view hotels, especially in Muslim countries, as places were men and women mix freely, drink alcohol, and dance. It is therefore also a strike against a corrupt establishment enjoying life at the needy majority. In addition, these attacks can impact local markets in countries with major tourism-based economies, leading to social unrest.
The continuing and increasing threat against hotels has forced them to take preventive security measures to protect guests and employees. This change of security policy in hotels leaves the grassroots militants – who are quite always lone wolves – with few hopes of conducting paying attacks in accordance with their great expectations to reach the highest step of the dreadful podium.
Public space: a new soft target tendency
Given the above, grassroots terrorists started by blindly killing people in the streets of the Western cities. The only effective attack, and the deadliest, was the one against the Charlie Hebdo last January, which stand as an exception. Otherwise, the death toll seldom exceed two or three dead people, often including the attacker himself.
The need to choose better targets led the militants to settle on open space such as museums or any free access places with a high concentration of people. The attack in Tunisia in a seaside resort is clearly the result of this situation.
Given the results of the recent jihadist operation in Tunisia − negative economic and psychological impact plus worldwide media coverage – similar armed assaults are likely to become model within the jihadist community. We can already assess that they will be used against similar soft targets elsewhere.