The Paris Terror Attacks: Lone Wolf Terrorism?

CNN called the Paris attacks on Saturday “the worst violence in France since World War II.” Over 120 people died in the attacks in Paris, with over 350 injured. Despite being simultaneous, the attacks look and feel randomized. There were 6 scenes in all, ranging from restaurants to the Bataclan concert venue.

The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has claimed that they are behind the attacks. However, at the moment, there is no way to know. There are certainly possible ties between the identified suicide bombers and ISIS, but none fully substantiated. A question that is resurging is whether or not these attacks could be attributed to lone wolf terrorists.

What Is Lone Wolf Terrorism?

At the heart of it, a lone wolf terrorist is a person, or a very small group, that commits an act of terror in alignment with a fundamental belief. These lone wolf terrorists prepare and act alone, meaning they have no guns to their heads or penalties if they do not carry out the act of terrorism. Their motives and actions are self-precipitated.

Terrorist groups take full advantage of potential lone wolf terrorists, by radicalizing online instead of in person. Individuals who are sucked into the social media profiles held by online radicals absorb the ideologies. They may then be asked to show loyalty through an act of terror, or they may simply be shown how to conduct their own terrorist attacks. The main terrorist branch stays safe, and the casualties often include the lone wolves themselves.

Lone wolf terrorism is mainly a security issue, and not just for government offices and employees. Because of the nature of terrorism, terrorist attacks must be carried out with as much impact on the target populace as possible. Terrorism is made to undermine even the best home security measures, reaching right through the media and into the home.

What Creates Lone Wolf Terrorists?

Lone wolf terrorism often has a psychological trigger, the proverbial straw on the camel’s back. The emotional response hunts for a channel of expression. In some individuals or groups, the channel of expression is fundamentalism. And for an even smaller percentage of those, the fundamentalism turns into terrorist actions against specific groups or kinds of people.

For many lone wolf terrorists, they find a channel for their anger or grief by blaming actual or perceived wrongs on a group against which they already have some prejudice. When the psychological trigger kicks in, certain individuals channel the emotions into fuel for their prejudices. And, as we can see, this can have fatal consequences.

Recent Examples of Lone Wolf Terrorism

The Boston Marathon Bombings

One of the most recent lone wolf terrorist attacks connected to Islamic fundamentalism is the Boston Marathon Bombing. It was carried out by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, on April 15, 2013. Two homemade pressure-cooker bombs exploded in the vicinity of the Boston Marathon being run that day. The bombs killed 3 and injured around 260 runners and spectators. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a police shootout 4 days later, and his younger brother Dzhokhar was captured.

The Tsarnaev brothers were born in Chechnya, a Republic in the Russian Federation. Chechnya has a high Muslim population. The Tsarnaev family moved to the United States and lived there for 10 years prior to the bombings. Tamerlan, the eldest, was dissatisfied with their status in the United States and returned to Chechnya for a time. Upon his return, he prevailed upon Dzhokhar to help him and they arranged the bombing.

The Charlie Hebdo Killings

Earlier this year, on January 7, gunmen Said and Cherif Kouachi attacked the offices of the Charlie Hebdo magazine. They killed 11 at the scene, and then 2 more while escaping. Their grievance against Charlie Hebdo was the cartoons that they considered offensive against Muhammad. Considered the “worst security crisis in decades,” these attacks occurred in France as well.

The Kouachi brothers were, like the Tsarnaevs, part of an immigrant family in France. Of Algerian descent, they were born in France. They ended up fending for themselves in Paris, after their parents’ deaths when they were teenagers. The younger brother Cherif was the one who radicalized through association with “mentors.” He and his brother were on a slow radical burn until the Charlie Hebdo killings.

The Paris Attacks?

The question presently on many minds is whether or not the recent Paris attacks are part of this phenomenon. While the Tsarnaev brothers were relatively isolated from any other individuals of the lone wolf terrorist bent, the Charlie Hebdo killings shows that the lone wolves in France are loosely but personally connected. They are simply not affiliated with any single group.

As far as is known, ISIS sympathizers consider the Paris attacks lone wolf terrorism. They take it for granted that ISIS is claiming responsibility as a source of inspiration, not as the direct instigators of the attack. After all, sympathizers never even have to meet any ISIS leaders before carrying out any attacks.  

However, analysts of the Paris attack suspects’ profiles think not. Even scarier than the spread of lone wolf terrorism is their coordination by the ISIS’ guiding hand, which is what might be happening. Most of the suspects made recent trips to Syria, although not all together, where they may have received independent orders all targeting Paris in one night.

Lone Wolf Terrorism Reorganizing?

On one hand, the more that the ISIS organizes its potential lone wolves, the more visible the spiderweb becomes. The international family of nations will become better able to trace the organization to its roots.

On the other hand, it is quite possible that the ISIS is beginning to organize its lone wolves because it believes it has the power and capability to stand against its opponents. The question now is, what is the next step of different governments fighting terrorism, either to combat or prevent that possibility?

The worst danger of lone wolf terrorism to regular citizens, more than to governments, is its sheer unpredictability. Lone wolves attack in any place, any where. The attacks can occur in commercial areas, residential areas, on the road. The inevitable response? Individuals and households will begin to step up home and recreation security measures such as infant life jackets. At one point, bulletproof vests may become a more urgent requirement than life vests.

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