US still grap­pling with lone wolf at­tacks

One year af­ter San Bernardino, dan­ger per­sists

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

One year af­ter a new­ly­wed cou­ple stormed an of­fice party in San Bernardino, Cal­i­for­nia, killing 14 peo­ple and in­jur­ing 22 oth­ers, the coun­try is still grap­pling with how best to thwart such lone wolf at­tacks. The evolv­ing threat fac­ing law en­force­ment, ex­perts say, was il­lus­trated again this week in the car-and-knife at­tack by a So­mali-born stu­dent in Ohio, the lat­est in a string of such as­saults over the past 12 months.

“We are en­ter­ing a very dan­ger­ous phase be­cause the type of at­tacks that are oc­cur­ring are ones that are in­cred­i­bly dif­fi­cult to fend against,” said Jens David Oh­lin, an in­ter­na­tional law pro­fes­sor and se­cu­rity ex­pert at Cor­nell Univer­sity. “These are very low-tech at­tacks with one or two in­di­vid­u­als us­ing a firearm, pos­si­bly an au­to­matic weapon ... and in the Ohio at­tack it was just a car and a knife.” Such at­tacks have ex­posed the new chal­lenge fac­ing the United States and other western coun­tries as the Is­lamic State group and other ji­hadists take their mes­sage into cy­berspace, us­ing the in­ter­net and so­cial me­dia to en­cour­age rad­i­cal­iza­tion. By far the blood­i­est oc­curred in June, when 49 peo­ple died in a mass shoot­ing at a night­club in Or­lando, Florida, car­ried out by a gun­man who pledged loy­alty to the Is­lamic State group. But last year’s De­cem­ber 2 shoot­ing in San Bernardino by Syed Rizwan Fa­rook and Tash­feen Ma­lik-who left be­hind a six­month-old daugh­ter-at the time marked the dead­li­est ter­ror as­sault in the United States since the Septem­ber 11, 2001 at­tacks.

Au­thor­i­ties say the Pak­istani-born Ma­lik-who met her fu­ture US-born hus­band on a Mus­lim dat­ing web­site and mar­ried him in Saudi Ara­bi­a­had pledged al­le­giance to IS on Face­book and was in­stru­men­tal in rad­i­cal­iz­ing Fa­rook. San Bernardino brought home to many Amer­i­cans the re­al­ity of the threat from ji­hadist vi­o­lence. A num­ber of com­mem­o­ra­tive events, in­clud­ing a me­mo­rial mass, a vigil and a re­mem­brance cer­e­mony, were be­ing held in the area on Fri­day to mark the one-year an­niver­sary of the at­tack.

‘That world is gone’

Ex­perts say such home­grown at­tacks are likely to oc­cur more and more of­ten as rad­i­cal net­works ex­ploit the web to re­cruit and spread ji­hadist pro­pa­ganda. In­ves­ti­ga­tors be­lieve the stu­dent who in­jured 11 peo­ple in Ohio this week was also in­spired by IS, which iden­ti­fied him as a “sol­dier” of the group. “You’re liv­ing in a far dif­fer­ent world where you don’t have this sort of 9/11 model with some ter­ror­ist trained over­seas com­ing into the US with a le­gal or phony visa and then per­pe­trat­ing an at­tack,” said Abra­ham Wag­ner, a se­nior fel­low at the Cen­ter for Ad­vanced Stud­ies on Ter­ror­ism. “That world has ba­si­cally passed by... and now you have peo­ple re­cruited of­ten on the in­ter­net ... and groups (like IS) are get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter at it.” Re­flect­ing the view of many in the law en­force­ment com­mu­nity, Wag­ner said US in­tel­li­gence ser­vices had failed to mon­i­tor and an­a­lyze so­cial me­dia post­ings by IS and its fol­low­ers be­cause the var­i­ous agen­cies were not pool­ing re­sources and “con­nect­ing the dots” when try­ing to iden­tify po­ten­tial threats. One ex­am­ple of this dis­con­nect, he said, was the Or­lando at­tacker who had been in­ter­viewed three times by the FBI for sus­pected ter­ror­ist sym­pa­thies but was never charged for lack of ev­i­dence. “The FBI didn’t have a case against him but had they looked at his so­cial me­dia post­ings” it would have raised a red flag, Wag­ner said. “We could do a great deal bet­ter with the kinds of tech­nolo­gies and re­sources we have.”

Power of rhetoric

There is also some con­cern that Pres­i­den­t­elect Don­ald Trump’s anti-Mus­lim cam­paign rhetoric could em­bolden po­ten­tial at­tack­ers. Trump’s choice of na­tional se­cu­rity ad­vi­sor, Michael Flynn, is a for­mer mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence chief who sees mil­i­tant Is­lam as the big­gest threat to global sta­bil­ity and has courted con­tro­versy with state­ments that crit­ics say border on Is­lam­o­pho­bia. “Cer­tainly, the way the Trump cam­paign couched this as a clash of civ­i­liza­tions be­tween the West and Is­lam was not help­ful and it may make mat­ters worse,” Oh­lin said. “But it’s also im­por­tant not to over­state the point be­cause the United States was al­ready en­gaged in a mil­i­tary cam­paign against ISIS ... be­fore Trump showed up,” he said, us­ing an al­ter­nate acro­nym for the group. One other chal­lenge fac­ing the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity as it deals with IS’s un­prece­dented use of the web to fur­ther its agenda, is how to pro­tect the coun­try with­out in­fring­ing on ba­sic hu­man rights and in­ter­na­tional law. But the new re­al­ity, for both Oh­lin and Wag­ner, is that the num­ber of lone-wolf at­tacks on US soil is likely to con­tinue to rise, even with the best pos­si­ble in­tel­li­gence. “At the end of the day, there are some you are go­ing to catch and some you are not,” Wag­ner said. — AFP

SAN BERNARDINO: This file photo taken on De­cem­ber 2, 2015 shows Law en­force­ment of­fi­cers search­ing for the sus­pects of a mass shoot­ing. — AFP

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