Not long ago, terrorists wanted spectacle. Their plots were grandiose, aiming for body count and targets of symbolic importance like the World Trade Centre and Pentagon.
But tactics have evolved in recent years into the kind of incident that unfolded Saturday night in Edmonton: a driver rams a lone police officer directing traffic, then jumps out and stabs him.
READ MORE: Edmonton terror attacks: Police officer stabbed, people struck by U-Haul
Hours later, the same suspect was spotted in a U-Haul van, which he used to mow down four pedestrians before he flipped the vehicle and was arrested, police said.
It’s exactly what groups like the so-called Islamic State have been encouraging. Retired Canadian intelligence analyst Phil Gurski said the theme has been to “just do what you can with what you’ve got.”
“Extremist messaging continues to emphasize a move towards less complex, small scale plots, against soft targets by individuals already based in the West,” read a 2015 Canadian intelligence report.
WATCH: Edmonton police stabbed, truck runs over people in terror attack
Recent attacks in Barcelona, Nice and London all followed that pattern. Police have said little about the Edmonton attacker but disclosed they found an ISIS flag in the suspect’s car.
Regardless of his motive, his tactics are in line with current trends in terrorism.
Al Qaeda began calling for vehicle attacks in 2010. In 2013, two extremists ran down a British soldier, Lee Rigby, near the Royal Artillery Barracks in Woolwich and tried to behead him with a butcher knife.
An ISIS spokesman, Abu Muhammad Adnani, urged followers in September 2014 to simply select a victim and “smash his head with a rock or slaughter him with a knife or run him over with your car.”
READ MORE: A timeline of Canadian terrorist incidents
The following month, Martin Couture-Rouleau drove a car into a group of Canadian Forces members in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que., killing Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent. Following a chase, he charged officers with a knife and was shot.
In March 2016, Ayanle Hassan Ali stabbed two Canadian Forces members at a Toronto recruiting office while saying that, “Allah told me to come here and kill people.” He is now facing terrorism charges.
WATCH: Common terrorism tactics in Europe was used in Edmonton: expert
The attack on a Quebec City mosque in January was also a relatively simple operation. The gunman, who apparently harbored far right, anti-Muslims views, opened fire in a crowd, killing six worshippers.
Pro-ISIS propaganda continued to incite for vehicle attacks as recently as Friday, when a message warned Canada, Australia and other countries that ISIS “soldiers” who would “run over people by vehicles and cut off their necks.”
“I call it Nike terrorism: just do it,” Gurski said. “And this is what ISIS has been telling people for years.”
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