Experts: Lone Wolf Terrorists Now Operating As Killer Wolf Packs
The arrest of 12 people in raids yesterday after the deadly London Bridge attack by three knife-wielding men points to what experts say is the rapid evolution of the jihadi terror threat from “lone wolf” actors to wolf packs, ad-hoc networks sometimes directed from afar by “virtual planners” using encrypted technology.
“They’re operating within their communities, and some of these communities are so insular that — unless there are spies within these neighborhoods — it’s really tough to ferret this stuff out beforehand,” said Colin Clarke, a terrorism expert at the RAND Corp. and associate at the Initiative on the Study of Emerging Threats at New York University’s Center for Global Affairs. “This could have been hatched three days before with a bunch of guys who met in a basement. … I think it just gives you a sense of the sheer scope and size of the threat.”
U.K. counterterrorism officers raided several addresses in Barking, an east London suburb, and arrested 12 people there yesterday, officials said. Armed officers also conducted a raid in the East Ham area of the city. Neighbors of one of the slain suspects told British media they had reported him to police as a proselytizing radical.
Clarke said U.K. authorities, who are tracking thousands of potential jihadis, have been able to pounce on associates after an attack takes place.
“When something does happen, they have the networks mapped already. They know who the agitators are, and who the supporters and sympathizers are, but it’s impossible to know who’s going to take action,” Clarke said.
The Islamic State issued a statement yesterday through its Aamaq news agency claiming the group’s “fighters” were responsible for the London attacks, according to the SITE Intelligence Group. ISIS has urged supporters to weaponize vehicles in attacks against the West.
Yesterday’s 12 arrests signaled a widening of the investigation into Saturday night’s attack. Experts note that, unlike in the U.S., U.K. law allows for people to be detained for questioning, even if they’re never charged. Police said last night that one man was released without being charged, but four men and seven women were still being detained under terror laws.
Saturday night’s attackers, killed by police in a hail of as many as 50 bullets, used a van and large knives to kill at least seven people in the heart of London. Forty-eight people, including two police officers, were treated at hospitals, with 21 in critical condition as of yesterday. A Canadian and a French national were among the dead, while the wounded included several Australians, French and Germans as well as Britons.
The rampage was the third major attack in Britain in the past three months, including a similar vehicle and knife attack on Westminster Bridge in March that left five dead. On May 22, a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured dozens at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, in northwest England.
Prime Minister Theresa May said the three attacks were “not connected by common networks,” but said the country believes it is “experiencing a new trend in the threat we face” as “terrorism breeds terrorism,” and attackers copy one another. She said five credible plots have been disrupted since March.
“It is time to say, enough is enough,” she said.
Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, a fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism, said the attacks have the hallmarks of “virtual planners,” who direct logistics of attacks over encrypted cellphone apps but never actually meet the attackers.
A French extremist, Rachid Kassim, was reportedly found to be using an app to direct at least four plots to attack France since last year. He was killed by a drone strike in Mosul, Iraq, in February.
Gartenstein-Ross said the rapidity of the U.K. attacks indicates that these can no longer be seen as “lone wolf” enterprises.
“Ten or 12 years ago, when ‘lone wolf’ terrorism really was a model through which a lot of attacks were carried out, they were more sporadic, more occasional,” he said. “And when they happened, they didn’t tie into a group strategy, the way we see this onslaught of attacks fitting into ISIS’ overall strategy for Europe.” ___
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