“We are not afraid,” Catalans chanted after the attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils that left at least 15 dead and a hundred wounded.
Like the latest attacks in France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden and the United Kingdom, the main objective of the terrorists was to cause panic.
The sites chosen multiplied the effect. Las Ramblas is a must see in the Catalan capital that receives more than 30 million tourists annually. Undoubtedly the attackers went in search of foreign victims.
What they are aiming for is that Europeans think twice before traveling, visiting a public place, enjoying a concert, or going to a nightclub.
And the truth is that they are succeeding.
Kitchen knives, axes or machetes, which anyone can get hold of without generating suspicion, are among the weapons used to perpetrate the attacks. Intelligence services have been trying for decades to prevent high-powered explosives from getting into the wrong hands, but the war against common utensils would appear lost before it has begun.
Using vehicles to mow people down has become another of the modus operandi spreading around the world, given the effectiveness and the minimum preparation necessary to implement it. With millions of cars circulating in densely populated areas, the prevention of incidents such as Nice or Barcelona becomes almost impossible.
However, some governments hope to offer some peace of mind to their citizens. In Australia, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull presented a project to install metal fences, bollards, planters and huge flower pots as barriers to possible vehicle attacks in major public places in the country.
The British government, which after the attacks in Westminster increased the number of barriers on bridges, wants to make car rental more difficult and prevent people on watch lists from being able to rent vehicles.
Stockholm, hit by extremists last April, ordered the placement of granite blocks to protect pedestrians at key sites in the city. The measure will be complemented with about four dozen concrete figures in the shape of a lion, weighing about three tons each.
Even if barriers were placed on all the sidewalks of Europe, which seems impossible, no one could give full guarantees of security. The attackers would simply change their tactics or look for ways to jump the barriers.
In the case of Catalonia, the cell that carried out the attacks had 12 members, almost all young people. The most deadly attack, along Las Ramblas, was carried out by a single person, Younes Abouyaaquob, a 22-year-old Moroccan. Although the Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attacks, it appears that the group radicalized on its own, under the influence of Abdelbaki Es Satty, an imam in the town of Ripoll, Girona.
According to their neighbors and loved ones, many of the terrorists were normal young people, integrated into society. “They were kids who spoke Catalan perfectly, schooled here, who got good grades and were not involved in any kind of problem,” Maria Dolors Vilalta, a local councilor in Ripoll, where most of them lived, told the press.
In Spain alone, there are close to 1.5 million Muslims, and in Europe they represent more than 4% of the population. Under the motto “Not in my name,” tens of thousands of Muslims went out to protest against the radicals who act in the name of their religion. They fear that the whole community will pay the consequences of the actions of an extreme minority.
Islamophobia and far-right ideas are spreading like wildfire across Europe, where several political parties seek to take advantage of events.
Perhaps as dangerous as terrorism itself, it the use of the social unrest and the concerns of Europeans to validate extremist agendas against immigrants, or to reduce individual liberties in the name of supposed security.
Attacks against the Muslim community in general, or turning backs on the millions of refugees arriving from the Middle East and Africa escaping political instability and war, will only fuel the cycle of hatred that feeds extremists.
By following such a path, no one will be able to guarantee that a new Barcelona, London, or Paris won’t happen again.
Just minutes after the attacks in Catalonia, the mother of Mertxe Pasamontes, a 47-year-old psychologist from Barcelona, took a taxi to return home from the Gran Vía, two streets away from Las Ramblas.
Unaware that the driver was Muslim and Moroccan, the same nationality as the attacker, she spent the whole journey talking about what had happened. When she arrived at her destination, the taxi driver refused to charge her and said: “We’re not all the same.” Then he returned to the city center, to pick up more people.