Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Is ‘Lone Wolf, Freelance Terrorism or Open-Source Jihad' The Trend?

Lone wolf terrorism refers to the regular deployment of terrorist tactics such as violence usually against civilian targets  by an individual or individuals who may or may not be directly affiliated to a mainstream terrorist organization.
'Open-source’ denotes software for which the original source code is made freely and readily available and may be modified, redistributed by the end-user. Freelance is self-explanatory. Quickly bring to mind that terrorism essentially basks on fear hence its effectiveness or lack of it, is not necessarily a function of the number of casualties but its capability to (if possible, perpetually) instill fear in the minds of citizens. Terrorism is analogous to psychological warfare and the air of unpredictability (element of surprise) is a serious handicap.

The Wednesday, January 12, 2015 terror attack on Charlie Hebdo, a satirical French newspaper, the Sydney Café siege a while ago, similar incidents in New York, Belgium and Canada and the erstwhile broad day light murder of a British soldier – Lee Rigby in May 2013, reinforces the growing audacity of ‘lone wolf, open-source terrorism’. 

Alluding to the motive of their attack, the assailants were heard shouting: ‘’Allahu Akbar (God is great)’’, ‘’we have avenged the prophet Mohammad’’. Shortly after the incident in France, a German newspaper was firebombed after republishing a Charlie Hebdo cartoon depicting prophet Mohammed. Just as the dust of the Charlie Hebdo killing was settling, US military - Central Command's social media - Twitter and YouTube accounts were hacked by ISIS supporters (sympathizers). One dares ask if it is feasible for a mortal being to avenge for an omnipotent and omniscient Being?

This despicable act in France is said to be the most deadly attack in that country since 1961. This is definitely not the best of times for French Security and Intelligence agencies given the barrage of questions and insinuations suggesting sloppiness in thwarting such an incident. It is indeed off-putting that the three masterminds – the Kouachi brothers – Sàid 34, Chérif, 32 and Amedy  Coulibaly, 32, were affiliated to Al Qaeda in Yemen and were known to French intelligence. Sàid reportedly visited Yemen at least a couple of times where he met American born Anwar al-Awlaki, an Al Qaeda propagandist (later killed by a US drone) and the Nigerian ‘under pant  bomber’ – Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab who unsuccessfully tried to blow up a US-bound airliner in December 2009. On his own, Chérif was convicted in 2008 for a ‘’Jihad-related activity’’. 

Why ‘Homegrown Lone Wolf Terrorism’ Trend Is Worrisome:
The basic question been bandied is: how did these violent extremists manage to slip away from French surveillance dragnet and eventually pulled such a stunt?

Unlike terrorism by conventional terrorist networks, lone wolf, open-source jihad or freelance terrorism does not require extensive logistics, finances and planning. The ongoing war by the Islamic State (ISIS) bent on consolidating and expanding its territories has supposedly seen over 12,000 foreign fighters joining the fray.  It follows that if the aforementioned number of foreign fighters are on ground, then there could be much more adherents or sympathizers who cannot make it to the battlefront but will take solace fighting in the fringes as ‘lone wolves’. With access to the Internet and superfluity of online publications such as ‘’inspire’’, prospective terrorists are sufficiently ‘armed’ with requisite information on how to perpetrate mayhem, not in the scale of 9/11 but sporadic lone wolf attacks.

Lone wolf terrorism trend will continue to be a nightmare even to the most advanced countries of the world given the serious limitations in the science or art of proactively and accurately profiling, extrapolating, sniffing out and monitoring every last potential terrorist. For sure there are precursors, imprecise tell-tale signs but these are not perfect. It is very problematic given that the sample distribution usually encompasses thousands or millions of people at a given time. Even the realm of a sophisticated intelligence gathering system will obviously struggle to cope with such a scenario.

Camille Grand, a former French official and director of a think-tank – the Federation for Strategic Research re-echoes the aforementioned snag. Hear her: ‘’The problem we face is that even though there are not many radicalized Muslims in France, there are enough of them to make it difficult to physically follow everyone with a suspicious background. She goes further to assert: ‘’It’s one thing to listen to the phone calls or watch their travel, but it’s another to put someone under permanent physical surveillance, or even follow all their phone conversations full time for so many people’’.

Juxtaposing Charlie Hebdo Killing With The Nigerian Scenario
Though the contexts vary but it is instructive to draw an analogy. Boko Haram’s ‘’deadliest assault yet’’ on Baga supposedly left 2,000 people dead almost the same time the terror incident in France took place but the outrage generated by the killing of 17 people in France profoundly surpassed the pogrom, butchery of 2,000 people in Baga, Nigeria. More than 200 Chibok school girls abducted by Boko Haram are still missing 8 months after they were kidnapped. Till date, no senior Nigerian government official (military or civilian) has visited the marooned swathes of Nigerian territory controlled by Boko Haram. While the Nigerian government and its handlers were mute on the Nigerian massacre and did not commiserate with the people of Baga, the government swiftly dispatched a condolence message to the French. How cheap can human life be in Nigeria? 

In France, politicians (both the ruling party, the opposition) and millions of people marched across the country unanimously denouncing the attack. In Nigeria, it is business as usual; Nigerians in the southern part of the country go about their daily businesses. The Nigerian establishment dubbed the BBOG (Bring Back Our Girls Group) as traitors for having the audacity to call the government to account. While Boko Haram terrorists remain invincible and continue to have a field day, the Nigerian military is very busy court martialing cum sentencing some of theirs to death, politicians, senior government officials responsible and paid to protect Nigerians carouse about and wallow in buck-passing, finger pointing. Symptomatic of an entrenched culture of reveling on blame game, a section of the Nigerian sphere even blamed the international press for bypassing the Baga pogrom while concentrating on that of France. You show no compassion for your compatriots slaughtered daily, now you want foreigners care about your citizens. 

Why France?
Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has issued a warning to France after the terror attack on Charlie Hebdo. The message reads: "France pays the cost of its violence on Muslim countries and the violation of their sanctity," AQIM said in a statement published on jihadist websites. "As long as its soldiers occupy countries such as Mali and Central Africa and bombard our people in Syria and Iraq, and as long as its lame media continues to undermine our Prophet (Mohammed), France will expose itself to the worst and more."

France is said to be home to the largest concentration of Muslims in Europe, about 5 million Muslims many of them live in the banlieues, neglected low income suburbs characterized by a youth unemployment rate of about 25%. Algerian-born Djemoui Bennaceur captures it this way, ‘’these terrorists carrying out such attacks in the name of Islam tend to have lives marked by frustration and failure’’. The Kouachi brothers are classic examples of such as they are said to have done ‘occasional menial jobs and struggled to find steady work’. Thankfully, the French are un-intimidated, unfazed by an attempt by these goons to stifle free speech or freedom of expression in France.

Lesson For Other Countries
Not to be outdone, a lot of countries, especially in Europe, are ramping up measures to forestall a growing propensity for 'lone wolf, open-source jihad or freelance terrorism’ from been replicated in their soil. Germany, Belgium amongst others, are on red alert.
Lending credence to the saying that extreme situations call for extreme measures, the UK government is reportedly mulling a ‘’proposal to make it a ‘duty’ for nurseries and elementary schools in the UK to track and report any child that shows signs of sympathy with terrorists or is a risk of potential radicalization’’. The British Chancellor George Osborne indicates that £100m has been set aside for ‘’specifically monitoring people who are going to conflicts in Syria and Iraq’’.

What Can Be Done?
French authorities acknowledged inherent loopholes that must be plugged. The French security services deserve some commendation for reining in this dastardly act within 72 hours. 

Beyond all of the reactionary, gung-ho and not-so-foul-proof measures, it is pertinent to get to the root of the matter: why the high level of radicalization and propensity of youths embracing violent extremism? Did the system fail them in some ways that prompts them to vent their anger?

NGO’s and research geared towards de-radicalization or countering violent extremism must be encouraged. A consistent policy that gives a sense of belonging and enhances integration of minorities or people marooned by the larger society should be vigorously pursued. One is wondering if it is not yet within the realm of Science and Intelligence to come up with better forecasting models that can possibly predict the propensity of an individual or group of people to carry out terrorist acts? Please let the security/intelligence agencies strive to nip such acts in the bud, prevention they say is better than cure. 

The Role of Parents, Religious Organizations in Countering Violent Extremism
A conscious effort must be made to inculcate a resilient attitude and abiding faith in humanity. Religious organizations, parents must double their effort in counseling youths on the exigencies, ups and downs inherent in life. As they say, ‘’tough times do not last but tough people do’’. When sporadic challenges of life occur, I quickly reminisce my father recounting to me how he lost virtually everything he acquired as a young man sequel to the Biafran war and how he surmounted those seasons of despair and became more successful thereafter. That’s the spirit. Adversity has a way of bringing out the best in a man. There is no justification, extenuation whatsoever for somebody becoming a terrorist because of failings or inability to actualize his/her potentials. Look beyond your present situation, look at the bright side of life, love yourself and love humanity. 

Let’s join hands and take back humanity! Say No To Terrorism!

Written By:
Don Okereke
(Security Aficionado/Analyst/Consultant, Writer/Blogger, Change Agent, Ex-serviceman)

Follow me on Twitter: @DonOkereke
Contact me via: donokereke(at)gmail.com