By Stewart Webb
The recent string of lone wolf attacks in Britain cannot be fully explained away because they occurred during the month of Ramadan. One of the Ramadan-related inspirations is that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi decreed the formation of the ISIS caliphate during that month. There has been a correlation between an increase of ISIS-related attacks worldwide and the month of Ramadan for a couple of years so far. Nor should the London attack be dismissed as being solely inspired because of the Manchester attack.
Lone wolf attacks have occurred in the United Kingdom, Canada, the United States, Germany, France, Belgium and the list could go on. So could the list of attackers and their victims.
The true threat of lone wolf attacks stems from the proselytizing of Islamic extremism over the Internet and in any public sphere. On the Internet, extremist preachers connect to individuals who might be sympathetic. The Manchester bomber, Salman Abedi, may have had links to a former Ottawa extremist preacher, Abdul Baset Ghwela, who now resides in Libya. This only echoes the Fort Hood incident where Major Nidal Hasan was influenced by al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula cleric Anwar al-Awlaki.
Extremist clerics and preachers will not stop trying to sway these disillusioned citizens who do not fit in with society and their peers as they seek for an accepting community and/or adventure. Of course, we could crack down on extremist preachers, but this would also place our freedom of expression at risk.
Unfortunately, extremist preachers are not the only threat online. There is a myriad of al-Qaeda and ISIS magazines that espouse their positions, and offer do-it-yourself guides to bombs or suggestions such as rent a van and drive it into a crowd. Then there is YouTube, Twitter and any other social media platforms where their propaganda can be still sought out. We have to also remember that the first six ISIS magazines of Dabiq were available for purchase on Amazon.
As technology has advanced so has terrorism, and it seems that we are still trying to catch up. The main objective of a terrorist group is to propagate its message, and embracing the Internet has proven to be fruitful. Welcome to Moore’s Law of Terrorism. For those who are not familiar with it, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore has predicted that transistor power will continue to double and markedly increase and thus pave the way for technological advancements. Terrorism has embraced the Internet, social media and public relations — from the Bora Bora to the PR room.
Facebook, Google, YouTube and Twitter have attempted to crack down on terrorist propaganda, but they have not been able to be successful. In fact, when many ISIS sympathizer Twitter users are blocked, they see it as a badge of honour, create a new account and reach out to their old contacts and re-form the connection. And the measures undertaken by the digital super-giants can be overcome by downloading a new browser, adopting a VPN or even just installing an advanced ad blocker. The United Kingdom created its own unit that will use psychological operations and social media.
It would be easy to blame the digital shift of inspiring western citizens solely on ISIS, but it would be wrong. Since the inception of al-Qaeda, even in the days of dial-up modem connections, there has been an Internet following. The first jihadist sympathetic website,
www.azzam.com, was launched by a London Kings College student. It rose in global notoriety and provided English-language updates on international jihadist activities. It was eventually shut down shortly after the 9/11 attacks. But this did not stop the ringleader of the July 7 attack in London in having copies of some of Azzam’s texts on martyrdom.
Of course the proselytizing message does not only land on ears of those willing to lay down their lives. The message is also heard by those who will only offer material support. For many, the first example that will pop in their minds is the DC transit cop that was trying to send prepaid credit cards to ISIS only to find himself in an FBI sting operation.
Then there is Jubair Ahmed, a Pakistani-American who was sentenced to 12 years in prison for offering material support to Lashkar-e-Taiba. For those who aren’t familiar with the Pakistani group, they were responsible for the Mumbai attacks and the Indian Parliament bombing in 2001. Ahmed starting providing recruitment and propaganda videos to the group from raw footage that was sent to him.
Imagine a world where ISIS and other groups outsource their propaganda films through the dark web. Or hackers find solutions on the battlefield. A U.S. Predator drone over Iraq was hacked in 2009 and the insurgents on the ground only used software available on the Internet for $26.
Sometimes it does seem we are falling behind. This is not the new age of terror, but just a minor step forward. We have to remember that, in this fight, they will adapt and so will we and it is going to be a long slog.