The lone wolf killer: Merah fits new al-Qaida mold

Analysis: Online jihadis tell followers to act alone, pick targets near their homes. keep plots to themselves.

March 22, 2012 01:20
2 minute read.
Alleged photo of Mohamed Merah from French TV.

French Toulouse shooter Mohamed Merah 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/France 2 Television)


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In light of the information now emerging from France, it seems the man suspected of being behind the rampage of murder in Toulouse, Mohamed Merah, made a decision to embark on a one-man jihad campaign close to home.

By doing so, he acted in line with instructions that have been broadcast on the Internet by al-Qaida ideologues over recent years.

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Merah, 23, was under surveillance by French security forces after spending time in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and apparently trained with jihadis there, according to French authorities.

Upon his return to France, Merah accessed jihadi content on the Internet, including scenes of brutal violence, a Paris prosecutor said.

The jihadi Internet world has been awash with calls to followers in the West to act by themselves, and to attack targets near their places of residence.

Those issuing the calls believe such tactics minimize the chances of terrorist plots leaking out to intelligence services.

One clear example of this trend was the online magazine, Inspire, produced by Yemini-American al-Qaida operative Anwar al-Awlaki and his American- Pakistani accomplice, Samir Khan. Both were assassinated in a US drone attack in Yemen last year.


Inspire told Western Muslims that they had a religious obligation to carry out a jihad, and repeatedly urged readers to act alone, pick targets near their homes and keep their plots to themselves.

“Based on your ability, you choose the target [in your home area].

“Your pool of targets is large, so make sure to think of all of the available options. An example of something local, easy and effective is attacking an army recruiting center, nightclub, highway or busy shopping mall,” said the first issue of Inspire, which was made available by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

Last year, when asked by a reader how best to serve the jihad, the magazine advised him to attack civilians on his own, and argued against the idea of travelling to distant battle arenas.

In February, the Shumoukh Al-Islam jihadi Internet forum carried a message from a member calling on American Muslims to launch lone wolf attacks, according to MEMRI.

In other messages, the actions of Nidal Hasan, who was behind the 2009 Fort Hood shootings, are held up as glorious acts.

The jihadi messages go far beyond discussing attack tactics.

They are filled with murderous hatred of Jews, Christians and Muslims deemed to be “traitors” to the cause of jihad.

Western security forces will need to dedicate very large resources to tracking down “individual jihadis” and aim to stop them before they act.

Yaakov Lappin is author of Virtual Caliphate; Exposing the Islamist State on the Internet.

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