Imagine the scene along Chicago’s lakefront path on a typical weekday afternoon. Cyclists cruising in both directions, past runners and darting children just released from school.
Now imagine a rental pickup truck barreling down the path, smashing bicycles and pedestrians for a mile or more.
It happened in Lower Manhattan on Tuesday, not far from the World Trade Center memorial. A driver bent on mayhem sped down a bike path beside the Hudson River, sending bodies and bicycles flying. He struck a school bus outside a neighborhood landmark, Stuyvesant High, before crashing the truck. Leaping from his vehicle, he brandished a pellet gun and a paintball gun and was shot by a police officer. Even as they scrambled for safety, some people wondered if this was a Halloween prank. Others reached for their cellphones, capturing snippets of the chaos on video: A figure that appears to be the driver, trying to escape on foot. The wreckage of the truck. Crumpled bicycles. Lifeless bodies.
So the pattern established oceans away now visits America. Hamas terrorists had been so successful with vehicle attacks against Israelis that, in 2014, an Islamic State official urged similar attacks across the West. This resort to terror by the ton — cheap and easy to execute — is a paradoxical tribute to the sophisticated protections that have denied extremists many of the conventional weapons, and the easy access to air transport targets, they enjoyed at the turn of this century.
We don’t know if this suspect was heeding an Islamic State call to attack trick-or-treaters on Halloween. Or if only his own twisted thinking drove him to choose this day, this celebration, to attack New Yorkers on this trail in a neighborhood laced with residential buildings and clotted with people traffic — the ultimate soft target.
We’ve seen enough of these car and truck attacks — in London, Nice, Stockholm, Berlin — to know they are all but impossible to predict or prevent.
Early news reports had Islamic State voices cheering the attack. If so, they’ll awaken to the realization that an onslaught in New York - the deadliest attack since 9/11 — doesn’t diminish the swift and formidable victory of U.S.-backed forces against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. To the contrary, any terror attack on the West affirms that the job of eradicating this group and others like it isn’t finished.
Defeating Islamic State on the battlefields of Mosul and Raqqa has to be followed by a victory in the treacherous terrain of cyberspace. Islamic State can spew hatred and draw terrorist wannabes to its savage cause. It doesn’t cost much to brainwash and recruit adherents on the internet.
Our hope is that as Islamic State becomes more desperate to avenge its losses to superior forces in its former caliphate, that the appeal of the group will fade. That’s the hope.
The reality is that terrorists humbled in one place can regroup in other countries — in Libya, elsewhere in Africa. That’s why the Trump administration recently pledged $60 million to help five African nations build a counterterrorism force.
The New York attack underscores what we’ve always known: This is a war that will be fought not by one generation, but by this and other generations to come.