While I recognize that I still owe a piece on Prevent in the UK, the events in Fort Hood have sparked off a different line of thought which I thought I would quickly scribble down – this is the aspect of Major Nidal Malik Hasan as a Lone Wolf.
Let me quickly emphasize two things, one I do not have some sort of morbid fascination with the concept of Lone Wolves, and two, I am not by any means prejudging what might later come out about Hasan Malik.
The reason that this aspect has struck me, is the parallel story in the America that we are coming up to execution day for John Allen Mohammed, the infamous DC sniper who in October 2002, with the assistance of brainwashed teenager Lee Boyd Malvo, brought fear and terror to Washigton’s streets. For as-of-yet not completely explained reasons, Mohammed (a Muslim convert who served in the U.S. Army during the Gulf War) decided to cruise around Washington, Virginia and Maryland and take pot shots from the back of their car at people going about their daily business.
Ten people were killed and three injured at random (Malvo further claimed they had killed another four people, though nothing more is known of this), and the city was practically brought to a stand-still. Having gotten to Washington myself about six months later, I can testify that people were still shaken by the experience then.
The men’s plan was apparently to extort some $10 million from the government which they were going to use to train an army of homeless children in Canada to carry out similar acts across the country, the Washington shootings were merely the first phase. This plan is nothing like what we have currently understood Malik’s to be (which are at best unclear at the moment, though speculation appears to focus around the fact he apparently did not want to be deployed in Afghanistan), but the terror and impact that has been caused is on a par.
While I may be proved wrong, it would be surprising if Hasan Malik’s attack turns out to be some plot orchestrated by Osama and friends in a cave in Afghanistan/Pakistan. More likely he will be listed under the category of Lone Wolf, or individual who for his own reasons chooses to launch a random terror attack. Whether this is classified as Islamist terrorism, thanks to the links to Al Awlaki, the fact he was shouting “Allahu Ackbar,” or details that are yet to emerge we shall see, but what remains clear is that a single man armed with weapons has essentially taken over global headlines. Back in 2002, John Allen Mohammed (admittedly more of a Lone Wolf Pack, by which I mean a group of individuals operating without any tangible connections, and it seems clear that it was Mohammed who was driving the agenda), brought America’s capital to a standstill for a few weeks.
The point here is that Lone Wolves (or Lone Wolf Packs) are surprisingly effective terror tools when they are actually able to carry out their action. Think what would have happened had young Isa Ibrahim managed his plot to attack a mall in Bristol or if Nicky Reilly‘s manipulation pushed him to successfully blow up a restaurant rather than just himself (a friend also told me of a case in 2005 in the US of a chap who blew himself up, however, I cannot find more information – if anyone else knows please let me know…).
The troublesome thing is, however, that these individuals are equally hard to legislate or police against – all sorts of warning signs can be seen posthumously, but it is with the 20/20 given by hindsight. It is understandably hard to figure out how you are going to legislate against the insane or those who are simply driven to insanity by the hothouse of modern life.
But none of this detracts from the fact that they can be grimly effective, and that in many ways one can see an attempt to harness their potential in the writings of someone like Abu Musab al-Suri whose ideal of “a global insurgency” is constructed around individuals independently choosing the same path, with no tangible and thus compromisable connections, but driven by a similar ideology and towards a similar goal.
In a way, this is maybe the real face of the “leaderless jihad” that Sageman has spoken about. Fortunately, it remains clear that as appealing as the Al Qaeda narrative may have appeared at times, it has not managed to make this leap yet.