ISIS-inspired ‘lone wolves’ strike again, Muslims fear backlash
BEIRUT - The slaughter of 49 people in a Florida nightclub by a lone gunman vowing allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and the stabbing murders of a French police commander and his partner in their home near Paris by another killer with jihadist links appear to signal a new phase in ISIS’s terror campaign.
There have been “lone wolf” attacks inspired by the terror group before but the savagery of the latest atrocities indicates that ISIS is seeking to encourage and intensify such attacks by individuals as it steadily loses territory in its self-proclaimed caliphate spanning Iraq and Syria.
ISIS claimed both attacks but the exact jihadist loyalties of the two killers remain unclear. Both men, who claimed allegiance to ISIS, were shot dead by police.
The attacks appear to have been triggered by a May 21st call by Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, one of ISIS’s leaders, to “supporters of the Islamic caliphate” to strike “in Europe and America” during Ramadan.
Jason Burke, a terrorism expert and author of The New Threat from Islamic Militancy, said the attacks in Florida June 12th and in France the next day indicate that “a new form of terrorism” is emerging that poses a “dramatic new threat… the result of a 20-year evolution of Islamic militancy towards a decentralised, anarchic but tragically effective type of violence”.
“ISIS is slowly transforming the way that lone wolves are used by jihadis,” observed analyst Hassan Hassan of the Tahrir Institute for Joint Middle East Policy in Washington and co-author of Inside the Army of Terror.
“It is mobilising sympathisers as active conscripts in its military campaign, whereas al-Qaeda tends to view sympathisers as part of a long-term effort to build legitimacy,” he said.
“ISIS and al-Qaeda also differ in the way they view civilian casualties. Al-Qaeda… views civilians killed in the course of (its) attacks as collateral damage, justifiable in religious terms.
“For ISIS, civilians are the preferred target. They should be attacked until such time as ‘every neighbour fears his neighbour’.
“In the future, lone wolf attacks will form a central plank of its developing foreign strategy and for this reason, they are likely to become more common, as ISIS encourages its sympathisers to join in global jihad,” Hassan concluded.
The Middle East also faces this threat. On June 26th, 2015, a lone jihadist armed with an automatic rifle strolled down a beach at the Tunisian resort of Sousse, killing 39 foreign tourists, most of them British.
The effects of such terrorist attacks in the West extend to Muslims themselves. They fear vigilante retribution against their communities if the atrocities continue, inflaming politics, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s increasingly blatant anti- Muslim outbursts.