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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Inspire's Ode to the Not-So-Lone Wolves

Previous: Inspire Issue 5 Aims For Rapid Repositioning

Some counterterrorism-oriented notes from the fifth issue of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula's Inspire magazine:

In the "Ask Inspire" section, a writer (presumably Awlaki) encourages Americans to stay at home and carry out lone-wolf terrorist attacks rather than travel to the fields of jihad. Interestingly, it pushes the lone-wolf concept even further than previous issues, pointing out that the FBI has diverted would-be mujahideen who reached out to others for help. Probably-Awlaki argues that success is more likely if the aspiring mujahid acts without consulting ANYONE.

But there are virtually no documented cases in which an American with clear jihadist motivations has acted totally in a vacuum. Jihadism is a social movement typically carried out because the participant has an overly strong sense of community. Lone actors are exactly the opposite.

Awlaki cites Nidal Hasan and Stockholm bomber Taimour Abdulwahab as examples of "lone wolves," but in reality, Hasan had contact with Awlaki directly, and Abdulwahab may have had accomplices. Omar Farouk Abdulmutallab is cited elsewhere in the magazine as another example of lone wolfism, but he hardly qualifies, having been trained at an AQAP camp and assigned his mission by Awlaki personally.

AQAP's military commander Abu Hurairah also praises the not-so-lone wolves in an interview segment. He calls for a homegrown operation after every Western operation targeting mujahideen.

An extract from the writings of Abu Musab Al Suri calls for assassinations of Western military and civilian leaders. Al Suri writes that assassination is good enough for the CIA, so it's good enough for Al Qaeda.

Given that assassins are much more likely to be lone actors than other kinds of terrorists, this is probably something counterterrorism officials should be looking at. This message is reinforced by Awlaki's celebration of the assassination of Anwar Sadat later in the magazine.

It's also reinforced by repeated references throughout the magazine to Roshonara Choudhry, the British Muslim who attempted to assassinate British parliament member Stephen Timms as revenge for his vote in favor of the Iraq War.

Of all the examples cited, Choudhry is the only one who really fits the profile of a lone wolf in the purest sense. If any case study recommends itself out of Inspire No. 5, it's Choudhry. Unfortunately, her case also highlights the one redeeming characteristic of the otherwise weak lone-wolf model -- she didn't give herself away until it was too late.

For more about Awlaki and other American jihadists, pre-order "Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go To War In The Name Of Islam," the first comprehensive look at the phenomenon of American jihadists from the 1970s to the present.

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