Generation gaps are real. Even among terrorists.
Probably one in a million Americans would recognize the phrase "Dawson's Field Hijacking." It happened some time ago (1970) and involved no loss of life aside from one of the perpetrators. Four airliners were hijacked simultaneously and directed to a remote field in the Jordanian desert on September 6, 1970. A fifth plane eventually joined them. The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine organized the massively complex undertaking as what amounted to a publicity stunt. The use of that phrase is not intended to demean what the people involved went through; no doubt it was harrowing. The Jewish passengers in particular were held as hostages for nearly 10 days before their release for Palestinian activists imprisoned in various countries was negotiated. But ultimately that is what pre-9/11 airline hijackings were – they were leverage in a process of negotiation. And
The plot that eventually became the 9/11 attack evolved from something called "Operation Bojinka" in which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed planned a dizzying ten simultaneous airline hijackings culminating with, in the words of the 9/11 report (emphasis mine):
Nine (planes) would crash into targets on both coasts — they included those eventually hit on September 11 plus CIA and FBI headquarters, nuclear power plants, and the tallest buildings in California and the state of Washington. KSM himself was to land the tenth plane at a U.S.airport and, after killing all adult male passengers on board and alerting the media, deliver a speech excoriating U.S. support for Israel, the Philippines, and repressive governments in the Arab world. Beyond KSM’s rationalizations about targeting the U.S. economy, this vision gives a better glimpse of his true ambitions. This is theater, a spectacle of destruction with KSM as the self-cast star — the superterrorist
Terrorism up to an including 9/11 focused on this sort of Grand Gesture attack. The goal was not necessarily to kill a lot of people, although that certainly was a part of it. Then 9/11 combined the intricate planning, bold execution, and grand spectacle of terrorism as it was understood at the time with large scale murder. The problem, from a terrorist's perspective, is that the 9/11 attack was simply too bold; frankly it is a minor miracle that they pulled it off, and it required not only years of planning but also an enormous amount of good fortune (again, as they saw it) to have it work out.
That was the older generation. Today's "ISIS-inspired" terrorist was not raised on hijackings and PLO press conferences and plans that unfold over the course of years. This is a generation of nihilists who don't care about making things look pretty or striking fear into the heart of the West with their strategic acumen or ability to coordinate complex plans. The only goal here is to make everybody afraid and kill as many people as possible. Part of me likes to think, if there is any shared humanity between people like us and murderous terrorists, that the older generation frowns disapprovingly at The Kids These Days for their brutality, their lack of any interest in political aims, the absence of any pretense of artfulness, and the apocalyptic pointlessness of it all.
That is why what is happening now is so effective and essentially unstoppable. Complex plots create any number of opportunities for security services and counterterrorists to intervene. The kind of attacks we're getting accustomed to over the last two or three years eliminate that possibility by requiring no planning at all. Grab a gun, head for a crowd. Get in a van, head for a crowd. Build a crude bomb (I've not done so, admittedly, but I believe that anyone with time and internet access could figure out how to make something that will blow up) and head for a crowd.
What these people want is not the release of prisoners or the negotiation of political solutions to problems of international relations. The theology of ISIS is apocalyptic. These are end-timers attempting to provoke a final showdown with the non-believers of the world (which, as they define it, includes most Muslims as well). At this rate I have little doubt that they will get it, eventually. Their strategy of provoking increasingly harsh and anti-Islamic reactions from Western governments is moving more quickly than anyone thought possible ten years ago, and every "crackdown" is a recruiting tool ISIS types use to argue that their predictions of anti-Islamic evils perpetrated by democratic governments is coming true. At the rate of an attack per month or even week, it is only a matter of time until the United States, Russia, or the many nations affected in Europe lurch to the far right spectrum of proposed "solutions" to the current problem.
Nobody is making demands. Nobody wants to negotiate. This comparatively small group of people wants to attack Western democracies and drive them mad with fear until they abandon every principle by which they define themselves to strike back. In time they will get what they want. The chapters being written for future history books in the next decade or two are not going to be pleasant reads.