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Editorial: Int'l community must come together after cowardly Barcelona attack

Once again, an unforgivable act of violence has been committed.

This time it was Spain that was struck, with 13 killed and scores more injured by a van speeding along the bustling pedestrian mall of Las Ramblas in central Barcelona, crowded with summer tourists and locals alike.

The attack made victims of locals and visitors, parents and children, all enjoying a slow late afternoon in one of Barcelona's most popular areas. The attack was, in other words, designed to kill the defenseless, and as many of them as possible.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy called the incident "jihadist terrorism." The so-called Islamic State (IS) militant group quickly issued an internet statement claiming those behind the attack as its "soldiers."

We do not know if the attack was in fact planned by the IS leadership, but it is highly likely that the perpetrators were influenced by IS ideology.

The Barcelona attack is the latest in a series of assaults on crowds with vehicles, including one in Nice, France in July 2016, one in Berlin the following December, and two in London -- one in March this year and then another in June. All were committed allegedly by people under the influence of extremist Islamic ideas. And all transformed vehicles close at hand into weapons to carry out their cowardly acts against "soft" targets.

Spanish police shot and killed five people the authorities said were involved in a second vehicle attack on pedestrians in Cambrils, about 120 kilometers from Barcelona. It is possible the culprits were planning to act simultaneously.

In its statement, IS declared that the attack was in retribution for the ongoing U.S.-led coalition's mopping-up operations against IS in the Middle East, operations that Spain is a part of.

The frontline in the war against IS has closed in on the extremist group's twin power centers of Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria. Most of Mosul has already been retaken by Iraqi security forces, and Raqqa's fall is expected soon. With IS-controlled territory in Iraq and Syria shrinking, it's possible the Barcelona attack was intended to be a show of strength.

While IS may be withering in the real-world war in Iraq and Syria, it is continuing to spread its extremist ideology on the internet. Young people inspired by IS's murderous worldview have committed terrorist acts not just in Europe and the United States, but lately in Southeast Asia as well.

The problem is that, even if the IS leaders in their so-called "caliphate" in Iraq and Syria are wiped out, their ideology and its sub-sets will continue to spread worldwide, and young people infected by it will continue to appear. That is the reality.

Preventing vehicle attacks will not be easy. There are very few viable countermeasures, and these attacks can strike anywhere in the world. Thus, the only way forward is for the international community to cooperate yet more closely to eliminate extremism.

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