Is ISIS winning the mind game?

When US citizen Darlene Horton was stabbed to death on Wednesday, in a frenzied knife attack in London, by a Somali-Norwegian teenager, the world reacted by assuming it was the latest in a spate of terror attacks.

But most did not appear to hear the information that filtered through the same day, revealing that mental health ‘might be a factor’ in the stabbing rampage that also left five people injured.

After the incident speculation grew that this was likely to have been a terror-related attack, with the media describing the UK capital as being on a ‘terror alert’. A killing in London had become terror related without a single utterance from ISIS or any of the other usual suspects.

The revelation that the prime suspect was of Somalian origin would not have helped to quell the rumors that the British capital was under siege.

But on Thursday London’s Metropolitan Police confirmed that the attack ‘was not terror related’ – that Darlene Horton was the victim of a random knife attack carried out by a teenager suffering from mental health problems.

In this case ISIS did not even utter any claim of influence, before people were blaming terrorism for the atrocities of Wednesday. The world was reacting to a killing – fearful that some militant group had now crossed to the British shores.

In all likeliness Darlene’s killing would have gone unnoticed by the majority of the world - her death being yet another statistic on London’s streets - had it not been for the recent attacks claimed by ISIS in France, Belgium and Germany

The sad truth is that like all too many big cities, London suffers from quite high levels of crime. And as reported in Al Arabiya English on Thursday: Knives are the most common murder weapon in Britain, so this latest stabbing was not that unusual.

According to UK statistics there were 186 knife killings in the 12 months up to March 2015 – a third of all murders across Britain.

In contrast there have been two knife attacks in the last three years by people inspired by radical Islam. In May 2013, two al-Qaeda-inspired London men killed off-duty soldier Lee Rigby in the street near his barracks. In January, mentally ill Muhiddin Mire tried to behead a London Underground passenger, shouting that he was doing it “for Syria.”

In their interests

I’m pleased that the Met Police were prompt in dismissing any claim of a link to terror attacks. Recently ISIS has laid claim to a series of killings, suggesting that it in some way influenced the attacks.

ISIS might be losing its fight on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but arguably it is winning the mind game - if we assume that they are responsible for attacks in streets around the world without them even speaking.

ISIS might be losing its fight on the ground in Syria and Iraq, but arguably it is winning the mind game - if we assume that they are responsible for attacks in streets around the world without them even speaking

Peter Harrison

The immediate assumption that all attacks are related to Islamist militants also fuels Islamaphobia. It provides an excuse to accuse the innocent majority.

In turn it divides society when we need to stick together. In a time when there are so many telling us to hate, society needs to bond more tightly to show that irrespective of race, religion or cultural heritage, we are one.

It is right that we should be saddened and outraged at Darlene’s killing, it is also right that we should be concerned that she was killed and several others were injured in what appears to have been a random attack.

But the likes of ISIS prey on fear, they lay claim to attacks that probably have nothing to do with them, with the intention of putting fear amongst the international community, that their influence and reach is far greater than it might actually be.

In my view society needs to take a more considered approach when drawing conclusions as to the motives behind these killings. The police need to continue to be assertive in their insistence of ‘keeping an open mind’ while appealing for witnesses.

We should mourn the loss of the likes of Darlene Horton, and others who have lost their lives in such horrific ways. But we should be cautious not to fuel the scaremongering that could so easily debilitate civil society around the world.

And while Wednesday’s attack might not have been at the hands of ISIS, it might be prudent for the world to reconsider how it handles people with serious mental health issues.

Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist who has worked for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered everything from farming in the south west of England, to the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior journalist with Al Arabiya English.

Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:49 - GMT 06:49
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.