Lone Terrorist – A Role Model

Against the background of the increase in attacks by individual terrorists, Meir Gershuni, a former senior Shin Bet official, believes that a comprehensive strategic treatment of terrorists and their environment should be incorporated in training for intelligence gatheringLone Terrorist – A Role Model

We have recently witnessed a notable increase in the number of attacks carried out by individual terrorists. This is not a new phenomenon; however, this backlog of deadly stabbing attacks in Tel Aviv and West Bank and four (other) attacks in Jerusalem, some deadly, within two months, carries significance in terms of the potential stimulation of others and pushing them to emulate the "success" – as perceived in the Palestinian street.

Dealing with a lone terrorist is a complex task to begin with, certainly when dealing with a rampage executed through vehicles, which have, at first sight, the justification to be driving on the road. This is a difficult challenge for the intelligence and forces in charge of securing the infrastructures and the residents. However, the answer is there, and it requires adjustments and integrated preparation of intelligence, offensive security and physical protection. The lone terrorist phenomenon has accompanied the world throughout history, while the assailants use different action agendas, and with specific emphasis on public figures (including in Israel, in which we have witnessed the problem in full force with the murder of Prime Minister Rabin, RIP) that receive wide attention and often provoke consequential strategic moves.

Recent years have seen an expansion in the volume of such attacks (lone terrorist), as well as the spread of the phenomenon to new arenas, with an emphasis on the European continent, in which lone Muslim terrorists were not significant in the past. Failure to prevent any attack or thwarting it in the advanced stages of implementation, inevitably leads to a thorough investigation of all relevant security arrays, with the intention of drawing lessons in the intelligence and operational levels and formulating an appropriate response. When facing attacks as those in recent months – the "run over attacks", using tractors and cars, and the assassination attempt of Yehuda Glick – the difficulty in preventing and thwarting such spontaneous attacks is reinforced due to the lack of early intelligence, due to the nature of the lone attacks which are missing various elements of "organized" terrorism, often leading to information that helps in the prevention of the attack.

It should be noted that these facts, which constitute an operational advantage for the enemy in general and the lone terrorist in particular, have not escaped the eyes of terror leaders who are trying to realize the potential. An example was given by a senior of Al Qaeda, Abu Musab al Suri, when in 2004 he published a 1600-page treatise designated "Strategy of a Thousand Cuts", which encouraged and guided lone terrorists. The approach has been adopted and revived the blessing of the organization's leaders, Zouheir and others. The individual Islamic terrorists are driven by religious incitement goading them to carry out terrorist acts, which would be considered a success and a source of pride for them, and strengthen the concept for the leadership. The has created a kind of a circuit cycles through the presentation of these terrorist acts, together with acts of the past, as an inspiration and a role model.

The Role Model notion is reflected in both the organizational strategic level and the individual tactical level. The influence in the organizational strategic level can be seen in the declaration of the "Ansar al Maqdis" organization (or at least part of it) last week of joining ISIS, which was reflected in the beheading of a group of its opponents throughout the Sinai. The "imitation" is also reflected at the individual tactical level, as occasional terrorists are working on their own without the operational organizational infrastructure – although definitely in light of the massive and focused propaganda, and with reference to the recent terror attacks in Jerusalem directed by Hamas. In recent years Europe also knew a number of large-scale attacks by individuals, most notable of which is two attacks carried out by Anders Breivik in July 2011, during which he detonated a car bomb in the government complex in Oslo and then went on a killing spree at a summer camp for the children of the ruling party – attacks resulted in the murder of 77 people.

An attempt to detonate a car bomb weighing four tons was carried out also at the forefront of the Polish Parliament; the lone terrorist in this case is a Polish professor of chemistry. Fortunately, this attack was thwarted by the domestic security services while awaiting execution. In the past two years, there is a solid trend of executing individual attacks in Europe by Muslims terrorists; Western European nationals are "graduating" training courses of religious extremism; and participating in Islamic extremist organizations fighting against NATO forces, Syria and recently – fighting as part of ISIS.

Not surprisingly, in a significant portion of the cases, the targets were Jewish targets. So was in the attack carried out by the French Muslim Mohammed Merah who, during the week beginning 11 March 2011, executed three shootings attacks during which he murdered two French paratroopers, and on March 19 he carried out the attack at the Jewish school in Toulouse, during which Rabbi Jonathan Sandler, his two sons and another student were killed. Another major attack was carried out by Belgian Muslim Mehdi Nemmouche, at the Jewish Museum in Brussels on 24 May 2014, during which four Israelis and Jews were killed. It should be noted that Nemmouche himself grew in the shadow of his role model, Lionel Dumont, a Frenchman of Algerian descent who joined the mujahideen in Bosnia in the '90s and operated against NATO forces.

The two terrorists, Merah and Nemmouche, underwent a process of radicalization – the one of Merah's took place in Egypt and later Iraq, while Nemmouche experienced the process of radicalization in Syria. The thwarting of "lone terrorist operations" is not a simple challenge, and it seems that thwarting lone terrorist attacks as those that were conducted recently in Jerusalem is even more difficult, especially when compared to the known attacks that occurred overseas.

The immediate observation that can be made between individual terrorists who execute large-scale attacks – such as Breivik and to some extent the cases of Merah and Nemmouche – and Palestinian terrorists who carried out the recent attacks in Jerusalem, is focuses on the process and the duration of the logistical organizing (although carried out independently). The former planned the attacks for a long time, acquired weapons and equipment, gathered information about the targets and thus may have created the opportunity to expose their intention early on, before the attacks. However it appears that the Palestinian terrorists were almost spontaneous and due to a specific trigger took the weapons available nearby – in most cases a car – and went on to run over Jews – seemingly an occasional target. Without examining the details of the investigation of the events, which are unknown to the writer of these lines, we can assume that the selected targets were crowds, in order to maximize the damage. Another note worth mentioning is the fact that the terrorist who attempted to assassinate Yehuda Glick conducted one last verification regarding the identity of the target before the shooting and asked, "Are you Yehuda Glick?". It is implied that was a final information gathering effort in order to confirm the target.

Without regard to the nature and method of intelligence gathering by the entities in charge, who are working to extract every bit of information about elements who have the potential of carrying out an individual attack, a backup of the activity at this level by creating field intelligence through the defense forces, will allow to improve the pretreatment which will lead to a more effective prevention and deterrence. It seems that the tactical decision to shield some of the light rail stations in Jerusalem is the required immediate response against run-over attacks, concerning the physical security of the crowds, but it is clearly not enough. The presence of defense forces on the ground and their in-depth familiarity with the environment is an opportunity to achieve a force multiplier against the opponent.

It seems that the training of the various defense forces for locating suspicions indications in the immediate vicinity of the scene of operations, will allow additional time interval, even if it is a limited period of time, to respond in a timely manner and to nip the attack in the bud. Incorporating these security activities within the comprehensive strategic treatment of terrorists and their environment, may allow a more effective response against these attack scenarios and contribute to strengthening the essential deterrence versus the opponent.

The writer is Senior Vice President, Homeland Security, at Maydex AG.