Europe must come to grips with the 'Lone Wolf' terrorist fallacy

Since early 2014, at the latest, the Islamic State (Isil) has been plotting terrorist attacks in Europe. There has been a tendency, including during the wave of attacks in the last month in Europe, to favour the "lone wolf" explanation for Isil-claimed terrorist attacks, where the killer's only connection to Isil is to be "inspired" by their online propaganda, but in reality the institutions of the caliphate stand behind this campaign.

The infiltration of Isil's enemies for the purposes of espionage and terrorism, whether this is government-held areas of Iraq and Syria or Western Europe, is led by Amn al-Kharji, the foreign service within Isil's sophisticated intelligence apparatus, as explained in a new report by The Henry Jackson Society.

Isil conceives of its foreign terrorist operations in three broad categories: (1) directed or commanded attacks, where Isil operatives trained, instructed, and dispatched from the caliphate conduct operations abroad, sometimes after recruiting local agents; (2) suggested or endorsed attacks, where individuals who have fought in Syria and Iraq return with a broad outline of an attack approved by Isil but minimal oversight during their plotting, or else—and more often—individuals have received approval and encouragement via contact with an Amn al-Kharji officer online or via an encrypted messaging service; and (3) inspired attacks where Isil sympathisers respond to the command of Isil's leadership to conduct attacks in their country of residence.

In the final category, theoretically, one would find "lone wolves," but even the inspired attacks have tended to occur within the context of a network—in other words, accomplices, which means by definition they are not "lone"—and most of the IS foreign attacks have fallen into categories one and two above.

Even where Isil's hand has been more indirect, this terrorism takes place within the framework of a strategic vision laid down by Isil. Unlike al-Qaeda which tries to preserve its sympathisers, Isil wishes to mobilise as many attacks as it can in the shortest time possible and regards its sympathisers in Europe as its "soldiers" every bit as much as those fighting on the ground for it in Syria and Iraq. Foreign terrorism was in Isil's DNA from the start as part of its state-building project, and now its networks are mature enough to bring off this mayhem.
There is much more.

I call the category three attacks "crowdsourcing."   It takes advantage of the "pit bulls" of Islam who fall to the "sudden jihad syndrome."  They can be very ordinary Muslims who suddenly go off much like some pit bulls who all of a sudden attack vulnerable targets.  These attacks are harder to detect because they are basically out of network, and the terrorists have found encryption tools that thwart intercepts of their communications.

All these attacks fit within the ISIL strategy of hitting noncombatants in retaliation for the attacks on its combatants.  They also have the effect of making people question the acceptance of all Muslims in the West.  It may be unfair to those not involved but that is also part of ISIL strategy in hopes of turning those Muslims into future crowdsourced terrorists.


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