Analysis: How do you stop a lone wolf terrorist?

The truth is, even the best intelligence in the world can’t spot and foil “lone wolf” terror plans.

July 18, 2016 10:03
3 minute read.
French police forces and forensic officers stand next to a truck July 15, 2016 that ran into a crowd

French police forces and forensic officers stand next to a truck July 15, 2016 that ran into a crowd celebrating the Bastille Day national holiday on the Promenade des Anglais killing at least 60 people in Nice, France, July 14. . (photo credit: REUTERS/ERIC GAILLARD)


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It is easy in retrospect to criticize the salient failures of the French police and security services which led to the terror attack in Nice on Thursday. The plastic road blocks set up along the promenade could not stop the heavy truck driven by the terrorist from killing 84 people and wounding hundreds.

But the truth is, even the best intelligence in the world can’t spot and foil “lone wolf” terror plans. Security services can plant agents inside terror cells, listen to militant preachers in mosques who try to radicalize young people, bug phone lines and break in into their computers. The Nice terrorist – of Tunisian origin – had no previous record, wasn’t on the radar of the French security service, and his only encounter with the law his beating of his wife. Security services can’t know what going inside the head of one person who one day decides to become a terrorist.

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Israelis know this from experience, particularly in the last 10 months of a Palestinian wave of violence and terror, characterized by lone wolves with no organizational affiliation.

ISIS claimed responsibility for the Nice attack, but in the past years they took credit for terror incidents which were neither initiated nor organized by the Islamic State. This is a symptom of the decline of Islamic State in the battlefields in Syria and Iraq. The more it loses ground and the caliphate idea collapses, the more the group is likely to carry out terror attacks abroad in the old style of its rival al-Qaida but with its characteristic ferocity and cruelty. French authorities did say the attacker underwent a very fast process of radicalization recently without adding any other details.

Still France, which is outstanding among its Western neighbors as the prime target for Muslim terrorists, could have done better. In the past three years nearly 250 people have been killed on its soil in terror attacks.

France has to come to terms with the notion that it is under constant threat from ISIS and al-Qaida abroad, and from its own citizens who act alone or are inspired by ISIS or sent by the group.

France already stated that it would increase its air operations against ISIS in Iraq and Syria. But it’s not enough. France and the West at large have to realize that they need to adopt measures which will affect their lifestyle and daily routine.

They need to improve the intelligence coverage not only of potential suspects and individuals but also the neighborhoods where they live. They have to recruit more Arab speaking analysts and experts with better knowledge and understanding of various dialects and of Islam and the Koran. They have to monitor mosques and radical preaches and if necessary to depose them of their jobs. New legislation with stricter laws has to be introduced. In free Western society, the pendulum in the range between democracy and security have until now has tilted in the direction of sanctioning democratic values of freedom of movement, free speech, and privacy. Now if the French authorities reach the conclusion that life is no more sacred than the values which accompany it, the balance needs to be adjusted so that the pendulum tilts in the direction of security at the expanse some values.

And still, even if all these measures and more are religiously adopted, no one can guarantee that terrorism on French soil and against French targets – and for the matter Europe – will be eradicated. Israel with its huge experience and innovative counter terrorism measures which are adopted worldwide can’t promise its citizens 100 percent success. Al-Qaida started its operations in 1998, and it took 10 years to almost completely destroy it first Afghanistan and then elsewhere. ISIS was created in 2012-13 so it will take a few more years but eventually its fate will be similar to al-Qaida.

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