Lone-Wolf-Terrorists1Remember all of the “lone wolf” terrorist attacks we’ve been yapping about over the past few months? It turns out many of them weren’t exactly lone. According to scholar Corri Zoli:

“…seven accomplices of Tunisian-borne French resident Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel—the man who drove a 20-ton truck into Bastille Day crowds in Nice—have been charged with aiding in ‘murder by a group with terror links’ and violating weapons laws ‘in relation to terror groups.’ The existence of such accomplices would seem to contradict initial news reports denying any link with terrorist organizations… This disconnect between public narrative and fact pattern is prevalent in recent incidents, both in France and beyond.”

Zoli goes on to give several other examples of prominent attacks where tangible ties to the Islamic State were later uncovered. These developments will likely make authorities more cautious before making any definitive statements on whether or not they think the attacker had any official connection with an established terror organization. But there will still be times when the authorities will rush to the “lone wolf” conclusion because they want to pacify the public – as if somehow it’s more comforting to simply think we’re surrounded by crazy people committing mass murder for no reason.

Terror investigations take a tremendous amount of time, resources, and cooperation. They always cross borders. Often the smoking gun comes in the form of a text message or some other form of digital communication that can take time to hack/subpoena into. To make this task even more difficult, ISIS recruits and recruiters are slowly-but-surely improving their own tradecraft under the direction of ISIS’ main intelligence arm known as the Emni.

What To Do?

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Anyone offering a quick fix to the world’s Islamic terrorism woes is selling snake oil. Fighting/killing them wherever we find them are important and we should never relent. But we also need to shut down the factories that make terrorists in the first place (i.e. treat the disease/root cause.) Does that sound like something that can be done overnight? No. Not to anyone who lives in the real world. And like most diseases, early diagnosis helps tremendously.

See Kosovo for an example of what can happen to a state that ignores initial signs of radicalizing elements (i.e. Saudi funded extremist clerics).

Living On The Edge

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Consider these three attacks:

  • August 3, 2016, Darlene Horton, the 64 year old wife of an American professor was killed and five others injured in a knife attack in central London’s Russell Square in what police called a “spontaneous assault.”
  • Larossi Abballa, a French citizen of Moroccan descent previously convicted in 2013 of criminal association to plan terrorist acts, used a knife to kill a police officer and his wife in front of their three-year-old child.
  • 19 disabled people were killed and 26 injured in a stabbing spree at a healthcare facility – one of Japan’s deadliest mass killings since World War II.

Two things jump out: target selection and weapons of choice.

When Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and others kicked off their wars against the U.S. they focused on big symbolic targets like overseas military bases, national monuments, and the World Trade Center. Successful attacks on high profile targets were thought to prove the vulnerability of the Great Satan and the righteousness of the terrorists’ cause. ISIS strikes differently. They don’t want us to be afraid while visiting the Empire State Building or tailgating at the Super Bowl. They want us to be afraid while getting the mail – thus the seemingly random attacks in quiet towns. Overall, I’d say it’s working but they get a lot of help from irresponsible media and politicians.

Secondly, if bad guys can’t get guns they will use whatever they can find. In the above-mentioned cases they chose edged weapons and ambushed their victims. When weapons aren’t available, people use their own bodies like here and here.

Understandably, the randomness of target selection and relative ease of execution has people on edge so I reached out to friend and colleague Steve Tarani to hear his take on these trends. Steve is a former CIA guy and globally recognized edged weapons expert. He is also the author or many books, including Prefense. Here’s a part of our exchange:

“It’s important to note that each of these incidents have several important facts in common: edged weapons, spontaneous attack, unprepared victims. Nothing much you can do about the first two but plenty can be done about the last one. You can be prepared to handle such attacks. You can be trained to avoid, mitigate and defend against bad things that happen to good people. The very first and foremost prerequisite for preparation is a personal choice to accept the fact that bad things happen to good people. People get shot, stabbed and blown up every day and just sticking your head in the sand and say things like ‘Oh, that stuff won’t happen to me’ or ‘Somebody else will handle it,’ will not solve the problem.”

Our elected officials and policy makers will toil with these challenges for generations. And I think they will eventually get it right. In the meantime, the best thing we can do as individuals is prepare – even just a little bit – for things that will hopefully never pass.

If you’re in the Boston area don’t miss the opportunity to train with Steve Tarani in October. He will be teaching a two-day “Active Threat Control” course at the FBI National Citizen’s Academy Alumni Association on October 22-23, 2016. You don’t need any previous experience or training to attend. To find out more click here.

My next newsletter will focus on cyber issues and will include some easy steps people can take to protect their digital information and communications. Until then, here are a few useful terrorism/Middle East related folks worth following on Twitter: ‪@MalcolmNance ‪@hoffman_bruce ‪@gaylelemmon ‪@MaxBoot ‪@rcallimachi ‪@Rita_Katz ‪@CruickshankPaul

Stay Safe – Randy