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The Terrifying Simplicity of the Stockholm Attack

“Very few actually comprehend the deadly and destructive capability of the motor vehicle,” an ISIS publication advises.

Shortly after a stolen delivery truck sliced through a crowd of shoppers in Stockholm on Friday, killing and injuring multiple people, Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven assessed the carnage. “Sweden has been attacked,” he said. “Everything indicates an act of terror.” The terror, in this case, came in one of its crudest forms: a truck, a driver, and a crowd of people. An assailant had weaponized everyday life in a country of nearly 10 million people, 4.5 million cars, and countless public squares. The plan likely involved some level of sophistication; the attacker, for example, may have researched vulnerable venues ahead of the incident. But the nasty truth about violence so basic—requiring no training, weapons, or collaboration with a terrorist group, nothing more than access to a vehicle and the ability to drive it—is that it is extremely difficult to prevent. The less complex the terrorist plot, the harder it is to thwart.

The type of terrorism on display in Stockholm leaves societies with three choices: 1) Try to secure open spaces by heavily fortifying them, thus transforming people’s way of life; 2) Try to stop would-be attackers by dramatically expanding the government’s surveillance and investigatory powers, thus increasing the state’s intrusions into people’s lives; or 3) Try to minimize the frequency and lethality of terrorism, while learning to live with the threat of attacks and to be resilient when they inevitably occur. Those choices are lurking behind fierce debates in many European countries right now about how to better protect public places, control immigration, and balance privacy and security.

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