Radicalization, not plots, defines Islamic State
Last week’s Christmas market attack in Berlin was the latest in an increasingly low-tech terrorism campaign being waged by the Islamic State and its sympathizers who favor butcher knives and trucks driven into crowds over suicide belts and booby-trapped cars — a tactical shift that has confounded American and European counterterrorism officials.
While al Qaeda relied on sleeper cells in the U.S. and Europe to carry out its mission, the Islamic State — the successor of al Qaeda in Iraq — has perfected the art of self-radicalization, according to U.S. intelligence officials.
In the past, al Qaeda sleeper cells had a semi-identifiable “demographic profile” and maintained “definite linkages” to the group’s chain of command that intelligence officers could exploit, said Nick Rasmussen, chief of the National Counterterrorism Center.
The lack of such linkages, especially by “lone wolf” attackers who were inspired by the Islamic State’s impressive online propaganda operation, has opened up “a size and scale of the [U.S.] population” susceptible to radicalization, Mr. Rasmussen said during a panel discussion in an intelligence symposium in September.
Al Qaeda’s focus on high-profile, 9/11style attacks takes immense amounts of planning, communication, financing and coordination, and comes with a high risk of failure that U.S. intelligence agencies have exploited, said Michael Leiter, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center.
Islamic State planners realized they did not need to hijack a plane or plant a truck bomb in Times Square to be effective. A heavy truck or easy access to semi-automatic weapons “is all you need” to carry out an attack, Mr. Leiter said during the same intelligence panel discussion.
In Germany, authorities are hunting for Anis Amri, a 24-year old Tunisian suspected of carrying out the horrific truck attack on a bustling Christmas market in the heart of Berlin.
Tunisian anti-terrorism investigators
French soldiers were on patrol at the Christmas market in Marseille last week after a deadly attack in Berlin. The Islamic State is using propaganda to self-radicalize terrorists using low-cost, high-impact resources such as trucks and knives.