Experts warn of ‘lone wolf’ terrorist threat
* FBI establishes ‘Lone Offender Task Force’ to tackle threat
PARIS: The “lone wolf” terrorist attacking poorly-defended targets now poses a bigger threat to the West than sophisticated plots, experts warned on Friday.
Although an individual working alone has little chance of pulling off an attack of the magnitude of September 11 2001, a lone operator’s isolation could make him practically undetectable right up to the moment when he struck. “In many ways, the lone wolf insider is the most challenging and difficult problem for the counter-terrorism and law enforcement communities,” Juan Zarate, a counter-terrorism advisor during former US president George W Bush’s administration, told a US Senate commission hearing on homeland security.
“The more a terrorist is interacting, communicating, and manifesting intent and capabilities, the more likely the plot can be prevented,” he said. Marc Sageman, a psychiatrist and former CIA agent in Afghanistan specialising in extremist networks, has recorded 33 plots against the West over the last five years. Of these, six were attributable directly to Al Qaeda and two to affiliated groups, but Sagemen said 25 were independent plots led by local operators with no connection to an international terrorist organisation. This is the key difference between Rany Arnaud, the young French Muslim convert arrested last December on suspicion of planning a car bomb attack against French intelligence headquarters, and the attacks in London in July 2005, where links were shown to “Al Qaeda central”.
“The tactic has changed from infiltration by trained terrorists, against whom border controls and police investigations could be effective, to self-indoctrinating and self-financing militants,” Sageman said. Sageman said that although the inquiry was at an early stage and areas of uncertainty remained, Major Nidal Malik Hassan — accused of killing 13 people at Fort Hood military base in Texas earlier this month – could be seen as a lone terrorist. Reports have suggested Hassan was in contact with a radical cleric in Yemen, Anwaral Aulaqi.
Established: To respond to the threat, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has set up a “Lone Offender Task Force”, and the bureau’s director Robert Mueller, has spoken of his concern about “lone wolf terrorist actors not tied in with any particular group overseas”. For US expert Evan Kohlmann, the Internet gives radical preachers and other extremists “a powerful tool offering easy access to an interactive virtual universe where they can mobilise vulnerable, unstable people around the world and incite them to carry out acts of violence”.
“And because the message is spread to individuals scattered across the globe, the violence comes in seemingly random burst from unexpected sources like pizza delivery boys, or even an army psychologist,” Kohlmann said. afp