The images of New Yorkers undeterred by a murderous terror attack hours earlier, defiantly heading into the street Tuesday night to enjoy the city’s Halloween parade and take their children trick-or-treating showed the world a radically different city than the one that was so badly shaken on September 11, 2001.
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But it wasn’t only the reaction that was very different. The type of attack New Yorkers were coping with, and the background of the alleged attacker bore the classic hallmarks of 2017-style terrorism: the individual identified by news outlets as having been behind the wheel of the Home Depot truck that rammed into a crowd, killing eight, 29-year-old Saifullah Saipov appears to have been another Internet-inspired lone wolf.
The Uzbeki immigrant’s method of attack - a deliberate car-ramming - made its debut on the world stage in Israel, and has since spread across Europe, from the Berlin Christmas Market to Paris's Champs D’Elysee to London’s Westminster Bridge. It even resembled the European attacks in spirit - hitting New York just as masses of people were out in the street celebrating a holiday. Celebrations are both opportunities to find crowded areas and, presumably, from the attacker's perspective, send a more chilling message.
Just as in Europe, the latest attack is sure to reawaken debates about immigration, though it will not necessarily help strengthen President Donald Trump’s case for his travel ban. Like the brothers who detonated bombs at the Boston marathon, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the New York suspect appears to be a Muslim immigrant from a former Soviet Republic, and even the tightest restrictions on immigrants from the Middle East and Africa would not have prevented him from entering the country.
He was also reportedly a legal immigrant, an employed truck driver holding a Green Card, with no record of criminal activity.
The assumption that the attack was ISIS-inspired reached as far as the White House. Shortly after news of the attack broke, President Trump tweeted a defiant anti-ISIS message and calling him a “sick and deranged person.”
The fact that Trump was quick to call the attack terrorism did not go unnoticed by his critics on social media, who pointed to a double standard when it came to condemnation of perpetrators of violence.
As in previous car-ramming attacks by lone wolf attackers, Tuesday's attack sparked widespread debate as to how law enforcement could do more to prevent a form of terror that was nearly devoid of warning sign. The perpetrator did not purchase weapons or bomb-making equipment, and as far as is currently known, was unknown to authorities as belonging to any organized terrorist group. Instead, he has been described by those who knew him as a “friendly” individual who showed no signs of religious or political extremism.
Even recent law enforcement measures designed to prevent suspicious individuals from renting trucks to foil such attacks seems as if it would be unlikely to have stopped Saipov. He possessed a truck driver’s license and had been employed as a driver, a fact that would have made his rental appear routine and avoid any suspicion.
As happened following recent attacks on pedestrian malls, bridges, and bike paths - both in the U.S. and in Europe - a change in lower Manhattan's landscape is now likely to occur. Just as barriers quickly went up on London’s bridges after the latest attack, and Times Square was reinforced with concrete after an intoxicated driver plowed into a crowd in May, the bicycle path in lower Manhattan where the latest attack took place will likely see the erection of vehicle-barring concrete barriers.
And beyond New York - across the world, those planning urban spaces will think twice before they create spaces where crowds of pedestrians will gather in spaces that cars and trucks can access. And when special events and festivals take places, they are more likely to be ringed by a wall of security and barricades - just as they are in Israel and across the Middle East. Unfortunately, as the Middle East has already learned, even the greatest degree of expertise and highest levels of public vigilance can minimize terror - but simply can’t eliminate it completely.