Management of internal security has become a greater challenge with the increasing threats of domestic and foreign-sponsored terrorism and the widening ethnic, religious and political divides in most countries of the world.
It is quite evident that terrorism or the Maoist movement is not merely a law and order problem of a state. Because of their interstate character, they cannot be dealt with by a state without help from the centre.
The brutal murder of a serving soldier in London, after the Boston Marathon killings, and the stabbing of a soldier in Paris indicate the emergence of a new pattern of low-profile terrorist attacks that are extremely difficult to predict or pre-empt.
The murder of Lee Rigby, a young soldier, in broad daylight, near an army barrack in Woolwich, southeast London, was most unexpected. The attackers chillingly declared on camera that the killing was carried out in protest against British military actions in Muslim countries. The attack had the intended effect, and London is still to come to terms with this gruesome killing and the brazenness of the killers, who hung around after the murder with weapons in their bloodied hands.
NBC News counterterrorism analyst Michael Leiter observed, “I think what we’ve seen in London, and Boston previously, is largely the new face of al Qaeda-inspired attacks. . . . These are no longer the large scale sophisticated plots from overseas but instead very unsophisticated and simple attacks which can still very much affect the psyche of cities.”1
The threat from Al-Qaeda
Al-Qaeda had started splintering into semi-independent groups soon after the demise of Bin Laden; al-Qaeda cells active from various countries are now no longer under a tight central control and are free to choose their own targets. Although there is no central base of al-Qaeda, its main group, under Zawahiri, continues planning and directing catastrophic terrorist attacks such as the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which were executed in close collaboration with Pakistani terrorist groups. As the ability of al-Qaeda to launch global attacks of catastrophic dimensions has been greatly reduced, it is now adopting a new pattern of low-profile attacks. Al-Qaeda as a global terrorist organisation still poses a major threat to many countries, and large sums of money are still available to it from narcotics smuggling from various parts of the world for maintaining a formidable terrorist network.
In this nuclear era, the danger of wars has diminished but internal aggression, either sponsored or spontaneous, poses the main danger to a country’s integrity.
There are indications that a large number of al-Qaeda supporters are being trained and positioned to launch attacks in countries that have a sizeable Muslim population. Despite a weakened and splintered central command and control organisation, its network in many parts of the globe is still capable of motivating groups and individuals to launch new and unexpected forms of attacks in several countries. Such attacks are likely to become more frequent and more lethal in future and will continue to disturb the internal security environment in many parts of the world.2
The Lone Wolf Phenomenon
“In recent years, Qaeda has successfully recruited lonely individuals who are looking for a cause,” said Jerrold Post, a former CIA psychiatrist now at George Washington University and the author of The Mind of the Terrorist. In a video released by al-Qaeda’s core group in Pakistan in June 2011, Major Hasan, who shot and killed 13 people in an attack at Fort Hood and wounded 30 others, was held up as an example for others. Muslims in the West were told, “You are only responsible for yourself,” and urged to stage attacks without waiting for orders from abroad.3
According to the Anti-Defamation League, the term “lone wolf” was popularised by white supremacists Alex Curtis and Tom Metzger in the 1990s. Metzger advocated individual or small-cell underground activity, as opposed to above-ground membership organisations, envisaging warriors acting alone or in small groups who attacked the government or other targets in ‘daily, anonymous acts.’ He referred to these warriors as lone wolves.4
The lone wolf is often a person who prefers to keep his or her own council, does not fit in easily or willingly in a group, does not like to take orders from anyone and generally maintains a low profile. A typical lone wolf is a dark and dubious character who has some psychological problems; some are prone to sudden emotional out bursts but most are quiet and reserved individuals. Once indoctrinated and motivated to launch terrorist attacks, a lone wolf acquires extremely ruthless traits and a more complex character.
Lone wolf attacks are not a new phenomenon, but the since the 1990s, these have become more lethal. The choice of targets available to lone wolf terrorists is unlimited.
Occasionally, a lone wolf may operate with one other accomplice who follows a common ideology of an extremist group, but the lone wolf is rarely in direct touch with any known terror group though he or she may keep in touch with jihadist ideology and methods on line. According to the New York Times, in a news analysis of the Boston Marathon bombings, the al-Qaeda activist Samir Khan, publishing in Inspire, advocated individual terrorist actions directed at Americans and published detailed recipes online.5
Major Lone Wolf Attacks
Lone wolf attacks are not a new phenomenon, but the since the 1990s, these have become more lethal. The choice of targets available to lone wolf terrorists is unlimited. The selection of targets and the method of attack may or may not be suggested by al-Qaeda but the selection of a target depends entirely on the inclinations of the lone wolf, as the attacks described below illustrate.
- On 24 February 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a former member of the Jewish Defence League and follower of the Kahanist movement, opened fire inside the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, killing 29 people and injuring at least 100.
- Timothy McVeigh is often given as a classic example of the lone wolf. McVeigh was convicted and executed for the 19 April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168 people and injured hundreds with a truck bomb.
- On 23 February 1997, Ali Hassan Abu Kamal opened fire in the observation deck of the Empire State Building, killing one and wounding six others before committing suicide.
- In April 1999 in London, David Copeland targeted blacks, Asians and gays with nail bombs, killing three and injuring 129. His aim was to start a race war. He was sentenced to at least 50 years and is now in a secure mental hospital.
- On 3 March 2006, Mohammed Reza Taheri-azar drove a Jeep Cherokee into a crowd of students at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, injuring nine people. Press accounts said that he “matches the modern profile of the unaffiliated, lone-wolf terrorist.”
- On 1 June 2009, Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, an American who had converted to Islam, opened fire on a U.S. military recruiting office in Little Rock, Arkansas, known as the 2009 Little Rock recruiting office shooting. Muhammad killed Private William Long and wounded Private Quinton Ezeagwula. On 5 November 2009, Nidal Malik Hasan shot and killed 13 people in an attack at Fort Hood that wounded 30 others.
- In January 2011, Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, Pakistan, was assassinated by a lone wolf, though supported by a larger base.
- On 2 March 2011 in Germany, Arid Uka shot and killed two U.S. soldiers and seriously wounded two others in the 2011 Frankfurt Airport shooting. German authorities suspected that this was an Islamist attack.
- On 22 July 2011 in Norway, Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people in two consecutive attacks. First, he killed eight people with a heavy car bomb placed in the heart of the Norwegian government headquarters in Oslo. An hour later, he appeared at the summer camp of the Worker’s Youth League, the youth organisation of the Labour Party, at the island of Utoya, 35 kilometres west of Oslo. There were 500 people on the island. Impersonating a police officer, he shot for approximately 90 minutes, killing 69 people.6
As lone wolf attacks seem to be the current jihadi policy, India faces a major danger of multiple lone wolf attacks inspired or launched by Pakistani jihadi groups.
Managing Internal Security in India
Efficient management of internal security in India has acquired greater urgency because of the rise in domestic violence and the emergence of new domestic terrorist groups and armed Maoists who pose a most serious challenge to the internal security of the country. The division of responsibility between the central government and the state governments for the management of internal security problem remains a grey area that has to be resolved at the earliest in view of the emerging dangers. It should not be allowed to get entangled in federalism-verses-the-states debates and in this context, we may re-examine certain provisions of the constitution.
The new threats posed by religious fundamentalism, narcotics trade, smuggling of weapons and explosives and cross-border terrorism need to be contained without getting involved in political hassles. The existing shortcomings in our system have been examined in the past by groups of ministers (GOM), but their proposals could not be implemented due to opposition from several chief ministers.
It is quite evident that terrorism or the Maoist movement is not merely a law and order problem of a state. Because of their interstate character, they cannot be dealt with by a state without help from the centre. Close collaboration between state special branches and central intelligence agencies is in any case necessary to detect and curb such activities.
The internal security issues have been recently discussed during the chief ministers’ conference at Delhi and among all political parties to arrive at a national consensus. Political parties have resolved to work jointly, but most issues will remain unresolved if there is poor implementation. Whether the latest review during the all-party conferences to combat Maoists will have any positive results is yet to be seen.
The reported reorganisation of Maoist factions in the entire Red corridor, starting from Nepal borders to Odisha and Andhra Pradesh, is a danger signal. Immediate action is required to dismantle the organisation formed recently to intensify armed attacks.
India has large ethnic and religious minorities. If they resort to terrorism and violence, it will create a new multifaceted internal problem for India.
The newly organised armed Maoist groups that are made up of mobile factions can pose serious internal security challenge to various states, and we should quickly put into place structures that can effectively counter these internal threats. The reforms in the intelligence and security apparatus and operative political systems must not be allowed to lag behind. It may also be necessary to redefine the composition and the powers, jurisdiction and liabilities of the central forces and agencies to meet the new internal security threats.
In this nuclear era, the danger of wars has diminished but internal aggression, either sponsored or spontaneous, poses the main danger to a country’s integrity. In India, terrorism and armed uprisings are likely to remain serious internal security challenges and we need a new set of rules of engagement and new methods of policing and governance to meet this challenge.
Unlike organised group attacks, lone wolf operations face few technical and administrative problems as such multiple lone wolf attacks can be carried out simultaneously. As lone wolf attacks seem to be the current jihadi policy, India faces a major danger of multiple lone wolf attacks inspired or launched by Pakistani jihadi groups. India needs to develop sophisticated techniques to detect and check the indoctrination process of domestic lone wolfs by Pakistani jihadi groups to pre-empt such attacks.
The threat from terrorism emanates from a wide spectrum of perpetrators, foreign and indigenous, including Islamic fundamentalists and other radical groups. Moreover, unaffiliated groups and loners that have been indoctrinated pose a perpetual threat of random ethnic and religious violence. India has large ethnic and religious minorities. If they resort to terrorism and violence, it will create a new multifaceted internal problem for India.
Notes and References
- Alastair Jamieson and Michele Neubert. “Are ‘Lone Wolf’ Attacks the New Path to Terror?” NBC News. <http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/05/24/18471226-are-lone-wolf-attacks-the-new-path-to-terror?lite>.
- Brian Michael Jenkins. “Al Qaeda in Its Third Decade Irreversible Decline or Imminent Victory?” www.rand.org as a public service RAND Corporation.
- Alexandra Marks. “Lone Wolves Pose Explosive Terror Threat.” Christian Science Monitor, 27 May 2003. <http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0527/p02s02-usju.html>. A version of this news analysis appeared in print on 6 May 2013, on page A1 of the New York edition with the headline “A Homemade Style of Terror.”
- Wikipedia. Lone wolf (terrorism). <en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lone wolf_(terrorism)>.