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Where Do ‘Lone Wolf’ Terrorists Come From? – OpEd


By Boris Pavlishchev

After the recent tragic events in France, where seven people were killed by Mohammed Merah, one can’t help but wonder – where do such “lone wolves” come from? Many of us would draw a parallel between the killings in Toulouse and the mass killings in Norway committed by Anders Breivik in July 2011.

The term “lone wolf” became wide spread in Western mass media in 1990-s. It implies a special model of extremism, the actions taken by a loner or a small group in contrast to a large extremist organization. A loner usually shares the views of one of the well-known organizations, uses its methods and sees himself as its member but he does not contact this organization. Merah also claimed that he was a member of Al Qaeda which is very unlikely. Lack of contacts with a big extremist organization where special services may have their own agents makes it difficult for security agencies to collect data about a potential “lone wolf”. That is why it is difficult to define how potentially dangerous these people can be, Claude Moniquet, president of the European Strategic Intelligence and Security Center says.

Anders Breivik
Anders Breivik

“The terrorist attack in Toulouse and Montauban are the first Islamist terrorist attacks in France since 1996. That means that for 16 years we – I spent 20 years in the French Intelligence – we arrested hundreds of potential terrorists. Hundreds of them were on trial and were convicted and went to jail. This investigation will probably tell us that the dangerousness of Mohammed Merah was not correctly assessed…But the fact is that we have hundreds of other dangerous people in France. Most of them at the moment are known to be dangerous but if they haven’t yet committed any crime. So we can’t arrest them. We must monitor them. We must survey them. It’s absolutely impossible in France – and I think it’s the same in Russia – it is absolutely impossible for us to monitor and survey lots of people. If you want to follow just one man you need between 12 and 15 police officers each moment of the day and night. You must tape the phones, you must tape the mobile phones, you must tape the internet. Sometimes you must translate documents or conversations. It takes a huge amount of time, means and human resources. And we just don’t have them. So we have to decide on the priority. In the case of Mohammed Merah the priority wasn’t well-chosen.”

In the last 20 years about 30 people have been put on the international list of “lone wolves”. By excluding the attacks provoked by ethnic and religious hatred it is possible to receive a so called “dry residual” of the crimes which can be put into a special group of crimes.

Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik can also be included into this group. He feared Europe’s Islamisation and opposed Oslo’s migration policy but unleashed his fury not on Muslim migrants but on his compatriots which was a terrifying message to the government.

The growing number of “lone wolves” can also be attributed to global changes, more radical sentiments, first of all among Muslim young people. In 2005, Claude Moniquet presented a report before the US Congress, in which he made an attempt to study the causes of radicalization as well as to understand why Muslim young people who come to Europe do not assimilate there. Moniquet admits that little progress has been made in solving this task.

“Radicalization is a very complex problem. We addressed this problem a year or two ago in Europe or in the US and it’s a long way from being settled. Many people are already radicalized. In the case of Mohammed Merah, I think that’s clearly the sign that something, of course, is going wrong on the part of the Muslim youth in Europe and in France. We have six million Muslims in France and we have problems with some hundreds of them. Out of the six million of Muslims living in France, we have a few thousands involved in crime and another few thousands who are Muslim radicals. But not all Muslim radicals are terrorists, not all Muslim radicals will kill children or soldiers or anyone. We just like to identify them as a woman wearing the veil and so on. I don’t think this is very profiting but it is not criminal. We have a problem with a very small group of maybe two to three thousand and a few hundreds of people who are real radicals. We must understand why, of the six million Muslims, we have 22,000 to 25,000 of who are radicals. And of the 20,000 radicals, we have a few hundreds who are dangerous and only a few hundreds who are can truly be terrorists in France or anywhere in the world. That’s the process of radicalization and probably at the moment we don’t understand very well how it works. It’s a mix of a feeling of rejection – many Muslims feel rejected by the French society – they do drugs and so on, they don’t go to school and they think this is because they are Muslins. Of course, there is the influence of priests, priests brought by in mosques and youth associations. You have the global influence of the world. Things are happening in Caucasus, in Palestine, in Iraq, in Afghanistan. They are saying to the young Muslims in Europe ‘look, what happened to your brothers in those countries, you do nothing, you must act.’ And at the end of the day, most of the people will say OK we will be radical Arabs and a few of them will be terrorists at the moment where you won’t understand exactly how it works. So we cannot really address the question of radicalization, the process of radicalization. And we must rely on the Intelligence and police and justice.”

It should be noted that discontent over the political system and the authorities seldom leads to terrorist attacks and a potential terrorist should have inclination to committing radical actions. Quite often these are people with metal disorders. On Tuesday, in Oakland, the US, a student at the medical faculty in the Christian university opened fire in the classroom, killing seven students, wounding the rest. The girl who was wounded in her arm told the police that the killer had always been a strange guy but nobody expected him to go too far.

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VOR, or the Voice of Russia, was the Russian government's international radio broadcasting service from 1993 until 2014, when it was reorganised as Radio Sputnik.

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