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With Lack Of Resources Counter-Terrorism Community Scrambles To Get Ahead


Let's return now to this morning's main story - the terror attack in London. Zahed Amanullah is a counterterrorism expert with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue. And he joins us on the line now. Thanks for being with us.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So what's being discussed in the counterterrorism community right now?

AMANULLAH: Well, I mean, first of all, we're waiting for a lot of the facts to come in. But I can tell you that most of the counterterrorism, counter-extremism community has been up all night trying to make sense of the logistics and also the phenomenon that we've had now three attacks in the space of just over two months and what that means for progress in counterterrorism and counter-extremism in this country.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What exactly did you see in this attack from what we know of it that seems maybe different? We heard Theresa May, the prime minister, say that this might be a new phase of these kinds of attacks.

AMANULLAH: Well, I'm not so sure it's a new phase. It's simply more of the phenomenon itself. I mean, it looks so far that, you know, this is a coordinated network, of course. And there's been arrests made in the last hour. So, clearly, we'll find out more information about how extensive the network is.

But the fact that, again, three of these attacks have taken place and two that follow sort of the modus operandi that ISIS promoted about using knives and cars and trucks. That is very telling because that indicates anecdotally that the propaganda that ISIS uses still has the ability to reach people who are able to carry those attacks out. And that's something where we need to have extra focus.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Meaning that the propaganda from the Islamic State is reaching people and that is, as many counterterrorism experts say, very difficult to combat?

AMANULLAH: It is. And that - Prime Minister May mentioned it, of course, in her remarks. And there has been a lot of pressure on social media companies. We work very closely with all the social media companies. I can tell you that they have put tremendous resources recently into this. But, you know, the answer is not necessarily trying - you know, taking down as much content as possible, though that's desirable.

The question is, what do we do about the ideas that are out there and civil societies' ability to respond to those and drown them out? That's a bit of the challenge because, you know, a lot of this stuff is still under the radar. And we don't hear about it until it culminates in an attack like this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're speaking with us from near Manchester, England, at the moment, where there was an attack. You're based in London, where there's been another attack. Can you describe the mood?

AMANULLAH: The mood is very alarmed. I've been literally corresponding with hundreds of British-Muslim community members across the country. And there is a genuine feeling of shock beyond the last few attacks because of the severity of this and the frequency of it. And there is a sense - a real sense that something has to change.

Now, I know all sectors are feeling this. But, you know, what they're telling me is that, you know, we're going to have to face some difficult questions. Now the only thing is, how are we going to handle those questions? Is it going to be as a community, as part of wider society? Or are Muslim communities going to be a target? That's going to make a little bit of a difference here.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Just briefly - we only have about 30 seconds - how is the Muslim community reacting? This is the holy month of Ramadan, a time of prayer and reflection.

AMANULLAH: Absolutely. And that's the great irony of this. A lot of this happened when people were breaking their fast or preparing for nightly prayers. And that's kind of what's really getting under the skin of a lot of people, you know? Those who are truly religious were in the midst of prayer, not planning terrorist attacks. That's why, you know, the barbarity of it is so difficult to comprehend. Yet it has happened. And we're going to have to come up with a solution, all of us together.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Zahed Amanullah is with the Institute for Strategic Dialogue in London. Thank you so much.

AMANULLAH: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ERIK FRIEDLANDER'S "NIGHT WHITE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.